How mentoring helps local kids build a brighter future

At United Way, we believe every young person deserves the opportunity to build a bright future for themselves. But kids from at-risk communities face hurdles (such as poverty, instability at home or lack of access to critical resources) that could make it more challenging for them to transition into adulthood.

With support from United Way, The SoulFisher Ministries’ ENAL (Educate Now to Achieve Later) Program makes sure students in the Riverview Gardens School District have access to mentors to help them reach their potential. Focusing on those who have an incarcerated parent or are performing below their grade level in school, the program helps promote positive relationships by:

  • Introducing students to diverse mentors in a variety of careers so they can envision possibilities that they otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to;
  • Forming personal, trusting relationships with students to help them discover their strengths and interests, building their self-esteem and path toward a career;
  • Providing a safe place to learn and grow during and after school so that they can improve their grades and prepare for graduation and beyond.

What mentorship means

Having a lasting, positive relationship with an adult can provide the stability and example needed to inspire the student to make positive choices toward a brighter future. When kids have a mentor, they’re less likely to engage in risky behaviors and skip school, and they’re more likely to become leaders in extracurricular activities and go on to post-secondary education, like college or technical school.

For the kids in the ENAL Program, these positive relationships give kids the boost they need to feel more confident and improve their academic performance. Mentors also open up new possibilities for what their lives could be.

“With our students, they don’t traditionally see people around them doing successful things, and they don’t see themselves as certain roles,” said Shawntelle Fisher, founder and CEO. “It’s important for them to see successful people so they can one day say, ‘since I saw this person do it, maybe I could become an attorney, too.’”

Having a mentor has helped change the trajectory for students like Arissa, who entered the program in grade school. Arissa had been struggling in school and with low self-esteem. Shawntelle took Arissa under her wing and helped her develop a plan to feel confident in herself. 

“When I doubted my self-worth, The SoulFisher Ministries’ staff would help me discover and sometimes rediscover who I was,” Arissa said. “This helped me build strong leadership skills and the ability to engage with my peers and the adults in my life. The program also helped me begin to excel academically to the point that I’m now at the advanced level in all of my classes.”

Seeing firsthand how having a mentor helped her, Arissa joined The SoulFisher Ministries as an employee to mentor younger kids and even helped to create a new part of the program where older students learn leadership and career skills. Now a junior in high school, she has a plan to attend college and earn a degree in music.

I want to share this life and hope with others,” she added. “One thing I would share with youth who are struggling is to push and NEVER give up!”

What United Way’s support means

With United Way’s support, nonprofits across the St. Louis region are helping local kids succeed in school and beyond. For example, more than 75% of ENAL Program participants improved or maintained their reading, science, arts and math scores in 2019. 

As a United Way safety net partner, The SoulFisher Ministries receives stable funding to continue to help local kids, which is crucial, especially as the COVID-19 crisis creates additional challenges for nonprofits.

“It’s been so important to have that general operating funding,” Shawntelle said. “So many funders just fund certain programs, and the general operating funds allow us to provide PPE, more tables to spread kids out and things like that. That’s why it’s so important for us to have become a United Way partner. It couldn’t have come at a better time.”

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Photo taken during 2018-2019 school year.

James Taylor
James Taylor