John Koons of Norman has mentored thousands of students through the Economics for Success program through Junior Achievement. He also spends time in kindergarten classrooms a couple times a week to mentor kids who lack a father figure in their lives, but when he hears the success stories of the children he’s helped, he knows his mission.
“I don’t have kids myself, but my parents were wonderful, and I wanted to give back,” says Koons, who works in community relations for Oklahoma Gas & Electric in Norman. “I work in partner schools like Madison Elementary in Norman and read to kids, but I was asked to spend time with the kindergarten kids. I spend time with them and play with them.”
Koons, like thousands of Oklahomans, gives time and experience to help youth in the state through numerous mentoring programs. The financial literacy curriculum he teaches through Junior Achievement is one of a handful of mentoring programs through the David and Molly Boren Mentoring Initiative.
The initiative is one of five programs of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence that promote the growth and development of quality youth mentoring in Oklahoma.
In 2006, the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence trustees created the Boren Mentoring Initiative in honor of Founder and Chairman David L. Boren. The initiative grew out of David Boren’s own commitment to mentoring and the proven impact that mentoring can have on a student’s success in and out of the classroom.
“Mentors develop and model positive relationships,” says Beverly Woodrome, Boren Mentoring Initiative director. “We work with schools, businesses, faith groups and a network of more than 150 mentoring organizations to provide resources for best practices, mentoring models, training and networking,”
“The Boren Mentoring Initiative’s goals are to promote academic success and career preparation through quality mentoring for Oklahoma youths from elementary through postsecondary and entering the workforce, although increasingly we are consulting for adult mentoring programs, too.”
The David and Molly Mentoring Initiative also hosts Oklahoma Mentor Day during National Mentoring Month, which is in January, to recognize outstanding individuals from mentoring organizations around the state. In addition, from August 1 to November 30, the group also coordinates Team Oklahoma in the Coaches’ Mentoring Challenge, a multi-state competition led by football coaches to recruit new male mentors from among their fans.
Other mentoring programs around the state range from encouraging girls to attend college to STEM-specific mentoring events.
STARBASE 2.0, for instance, is an after-school program where mentors from the Air National Guard, Army Reserves, Army, Air Force and aerospace industry work with youth to promote hard science. STARBASE’s Native American Initiative began in 2003 and has nine programs.
Project Ready Mentoring by the National Urban League helps 8th to 12th grade students make academic progress, benefit from cultural enrichment opportunities and develop important skills, attitudes and aptitudes that help them with post-secondary success. In 2012, Urban League began the program in Oklahoma City. Mentees participate in 182 hours of service which includes academic enrichment activities, mentoring activities, career readiness activities, college tours and business tours.
But despite the programs available, the biggest challenges for Oklahoma mentoring organizations are recruiting mentors — especially males — and funding for adequate mentor training, monitoring and support.
“Many Oklahoma youths are at-risk. Poverty, learning differences, inadequate social skills, intergenerational violence, drug addiction and dropouts create obstacles,” says Woodrome. “Even if a youth has two loving parents, the parents may be working multiple jobs to create bright futures for their children. Oklahoma also has many children of incarcerated parents. Children of deployed parents can benefit from a mentor, too.”
“As a trusted friend, listener, advocate, cheerleader and guide, the mentor offers support and encouragement to develop the competence and character of the mentee,” says Woodrome. “In older mentees, the emphasis may also focus upon career exploration, soft skills and future education or training. Even mentoring in workforce development prior to a job and on the job has proven results.”