Waking up teens

When the Potter’s House, a  local community service agency, found that young men volunteering with their programs were too old to participate in free summer activities, too young to get paying jobs, and unable to afford costly enrichment programs, they asked Wake Forest for help addressing this need.

The result: Shelley Sizemore, assistant director of Campus Life and Service, and Matthew Williams, program coordinator for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, worked with Wake Forest students, faculty, and staff to coordinate a pilot mentoring program this summer called WAKE ME!. The new mentorship pilot engaged participants, ranging from ages 14 to 16, to think about college, careers, and giving back to the community.

WAKE ME! provided an enriching environment for young minority men through faculty and college-student mentorships, service learning, and educational seminars that enhanced understanding and exposure to higher education and the professional world.

“I think kids need a positive role model,” said Wake Forest junior and WAKE ME! college mentor Khiry Sutton, who spent three to four hours a week getting to know the participants as he toured them around campus and introduced them to Wake Forest students and faculty.

The mentorship component of the program established a network of support between participants and Wake Forest faculty, staff and students. Teens participated in campus tours, classroom shadowing, and recreational activities with their college student mentors twice a week. Each teenager was also paired with a Wake Forest faculty or staff member, who shared personal stories and career advice each week.

“Faculty and staff really want to be involved in the community, but they often do not have time during the school year,” Sizemore said. “During the summer, we have the opportunity to engage them in this way and provide a strong mentorship piece to our participants.”

Educating teens during the break is especially important, as research indicate young students often experience declines in academic skills during the summer months. Minority males, in particular, are at a greater risk of lagging behind their peers and disconnecting from school altogether.

To combat these risks, Sizemore and Williams created a curriculum that enhances student cultural enrichment through a series of seminars with Wake Forest and Winston-Salem professionals in academic exploration, leadership, and creativity. Seminar topics included everything from planning for college to taking responsibility and gaining focus.

While participants took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about college, leadership, and creativity, they also gave back to their local communities as they volunteered with Campus Kitchen, a food recycling program. As the students learned about sustainability, nutrition, and food waste, they also directly served their communities as they prepared, cooked, and delivered meals to those in need.

“A lot of growth comes from the idea of pro humanitate,” said Wake Forest senior and college mentor Abrams Jamassi. “We’re all connected by our capacity to give back. While our mentees are being given an opportunity, they are also giving back and learning the importance of service.”

Though WAKE ME! was a pilot program this summer, coordinators are considering an expanded program in 2013.

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Categories: 2012 Highlights: Mentoring, Community, For Alumni, For Parents, Mentoring, Pro Humanitate, Staff, Student, Top Stories