Mentor Program Connects Students K-College with Resources from 5 Local Organizations
A criminal justice student in his third year at Grand Rapids Community College, Juan Mascorro sits at a table in the Hispanic Center, sifting through stacks of intake forms, folders and pamphlets. He is the Program Assistant through the Promise Partners collaboration, a peer-to-peer mentoring program. He sits up straight, and behind his glasses, his eyes are bright.
“I just want to help people,” he says, leaning forward. “Ever since I was a kid—I found some of my old writing from when I was a kid, and even then I wanted to be a cop, or a lawyer…and I still just want to get people justice.”
Juan started at the Hispanic Center as a Team Leader for the SOL Youth Program’s summer program, supported by the DeVos Foundation’s Believe 2 Become Initiative. During the summer of 2015, Juan helped students retain what they’d learned in math classes so they’d be prepared for school the following fall. In practice, he did much more than that, building relationships with youth through not only tutoring, but field trips, activities and listening to their stories. These relationships changed how Juan viewed his work in the community.
“The summer program opened my eyes to the potential in our community. At first, I just tried to connect with students and learn their stories. They were pretty closed at first, but by the end, we could be open with each other. Kids would tell me about how they used the money they earned in our program to help their parents at home by paying the trash bill.” Juan leans back as he talks, eyes misting.
Helping others is nothing new for Juan. Touched by the language helpers in his father’s English classes at GRCC, Juan began tutoring Spanish-speaking Latinos in English. From there, Juan began driving people to the consulates in Detroit and Chicago, interpreting for Latino parents during parent-teacher conferences, and helping families read and complete documents in English. He did all this while in high school, which he graduated from in 2013 with a 4.0 GPA. Despite his academic success and community involvement, Juan still felt out of place.
“I didn’t fit in in high school. I was the only person of color in the class, and I was very aware of that. I didn’t really have anyone to go to. But, it made me work harder,” he says.
As the Program Assistant, Juan’s job is to help mentors and mentees build a relationship that combats the feeling of “being the only one.” That’s the dream of the Promise Partners initiative—to create chain of mentors and mentees in which youth grow up always having someone they can rely on and to whom they can relate.
“We have mentees that are shy, and they might feel like they’re the only one going through this one thing. But when they’re paired with a mentor who’s had similar experiences, they can both grow from sharing the experience with each other.”
The Promise Partners program was the “dream child” of Hispanic Center’s Director of Youth and Parent Services, Rachel López. She, in collaboration with Hispanic Center Youth Advocate Kelsey Schoenborn and four other community organizations, developed the initiative where professionals in the community, college students, and youth in middle and high school are connected, creating a “mentorship pipeline.” Youth in this program receive consistent support as they continue their academic journey.
This program, which sprawls West Michigan, is possible through the teamwork between Grand Valley State University, Ferris State University, the Cook Arts Center, Cook Library Center and the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan. A replicable model, Promise Partners can be “adjusted” to meet the cultural needs of different communities. Juan hopes the relationships he’ll build will not only help the program run smoothly, but will provide opportunities for personal growth as well.
As Juan approaches the end of his undergraduate career (he’ll transfer to Ferris State University next fall to finish his degree) he says he’s excited about the opportunities ahead. Behind his small, paper-laden table, his face lights up when he talks about becoming an immigration attorney, and making his dad proud.
“My dad is really proud. I’ve gone above and beyond in his eyes. But I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t supported me.” Juan smiles as he talks. “And now I get the chance to share my life with so many wonderful people. I wake up and think, this is going to be a good day.”