Teach them to fish: Mentoring programs seek volunteers to be ‘fishers’ of young people

Teach them to fish: Mentoring programs seek volunteers to be ‘fishers’ of young people

In some ways, a single harvest from Shay Lake was symbolic.

Not even 10 years old, an elementary school boy reeled in the catch of the day, a foot-and-a-half-long bass, during an annual summer retreat and fishing derby held by Men’s Community Action Resource (MCAR).

Participants in “A Day at the Lake” retreat receive a mix of mentoring and fun camp activities through the annual Men’s Community Action Resource program.

“Sometimes you might not ever catch a fish and that’s what happens with our young people,” says Hugh Roberts, mentoring director of MCAR. “When you work hard, sometimes your test scores still might not be what you want them to be, but what are you going to do, quit?”

MCAR’s annual “A Day at the Lake” youth outing, where boys experience a mix of camp activities and mentoring, wrapped up its 12th year this summer, but organizers want to promote its lessons all year round. As weeks dwindle into what will soon begin another school year, MCAR and InvolvedDad are two organizations campaigning for more involvement from volunteers and adult support to Flint’s youth.

“We have this concept called valuing our students,” says Roberts, also a mentor for InvolvedDad, which encourages Flint’s fathers to be active in children’s lives.

MCAR will be going door to door to recruit families for an after-school mentoring program based at Howard Estates this fall.

To help set the tone for community engagement with local students, InvolvedDad will welcome youth returning to Eagle’s Nest Academy at 7:15 a.m. Aug. 13 at 5005 Cloverlawn Drive. Roberts and other members of the organization invite “anybody and everybody who cares about youth” to greet students as they exit the school bus for their first day of class.

“Many of our children come to school with a lot of issues, and we want them to know we value them,” Roberts says.

“We try and get law enforcement, parents, people from all areas of the community to come out and say, ‘You matter. Child, you matter,’” he says.

InvolvedDad has hosted the greeting for three years at various Flint schools of all grade levels. Adult participation has ranged from 13 to 50 people. Organizers want a large turnout this year.

“We give them hugs, we give them affirmation,” he says. “We look them in the eye and let them know, even living sometimes in difficult conditions, you have a gift inside you.”

Along with eyeing support for the Aug. 13 event, Roberts is already spreading the word about 2019’s “A Day at the Lake.” MCAR wants additional mentors to attend the camp retreat and aims to generate funds to help more youth attend.

Out of 150 boys who signed up for this year’s retreat, located about 60 miles outside Flint in Millington, only 40 attended, largely due to lack of transportation from home to the departure site. “A Day at the Lake” averages $15,000 in expenses for food, lodging, travel, camp activities and prizes.

At the camp the young people are taught etiquette and other skills by MCAR mentors.

Both boys and girls attend a mandatory training day, usually a week before “A Day at the Lake,” receiving instructions in grooming, like how to properly knot a tie, etiquette and other skills taught by MCAR mentors.

“We try to do a crash course in a lot of little areas for the boys and the girls,” Roberts says.

“We do a role play where we have the boys open a door for the girls, pull out a chair for the girls to sit down.”

Beyond camp and school settings, Roberts says he and his colleagues will begin a neighborhood campaign to recruit families for an after-school mentoring program based at Howard Estates this fall.

“We’re literally going to be going door to door to ask the parents and the children to come out” to the program,” he says. “We’re going to work on how we can learn about families and engage them and help them go to the next level.”

Efforts of InvolvedDad, MCAR and other organizations that advocate for youth are appreciated by others in the community, including Rev. Reggie Flynn. The pastor of Foss Avenue Baptist Church and founder of Eagle’s Nest Academy, calls the Aug. 13 event a “red carpet” welcome for students. Flynn encourages men especially to join the youth engagement effort.

“We want to have a really strong mentoring piece this year,” says Flynn.

Roberts says he hopes the resistance he’s occasionally encountered when recruiting potential mentors from neighborhood establishments will become a thing of the past.

“What we’re saying is, ‘Somebody mentored you, somebody validated you, somebody focused on you when you were a child,’” he says. “All we need for you to do is move your feet, come out and show that you value our babies.

“Those things go a really, really long way.”

For more information about the Aug. 13 Eagle’s Nest Academy student red carpet event or other mentoring opportunities with InvolvedDad and MCAR, email mentorroberts@gmail.com.




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