An enthusiastic group of adults are preparing to become mentors to at-risk youth through Girls Taking Action and Boys of Hope, operated by the husband and wife team of Dr. Verna Cornelia Price and Brother Shane Price, through their Power of People Leadership Institute.
This year, the programs will expand to serve close to 1,000 Minnesota boys and girls in 27 different junior and senior high schools.
Girls Taking Action and Boys of Hope are both seeing a high level of interest from students, so the demand for adult role models is also growing. The program is adding dozens of mentors to “inspire, motivate, empower and engage young people to be successful in school and in life,” according to Verna Price.
“Coming out of the pandemic, with our young people being isolated, they really suffered. They lost a lot of ground,” she said. “We know that a connection to a caring adult, a mentor, makes a huge difference in the lives of our girls and boys.”
Eighteen years ago, Verna Price founded Girls Taking Action in one Minneapolis school. Three years ago, its successful approach was modified into the Boys of Hope program.
“We are disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline, but we don’t go in talking about that,” said Dr. Shane Price. “We have a formula. We are trying to divert students to higher education, community college, trade schools. The students need the mentors to open up that window.”
In a two-day training program in Maple Grove on October 7-8, the mentors not only reviewed the program’s core components and its curriculum, they also got fired up with inspiring messages from the Prices. The founders encouraged the new mentors to “speak with authority” and create a positive environment for their young participants.
“They don’t need you to play with them,” Shane Price told the group. “Treat each with extravagant civility and kindness, but you draw that line. They’re looking for someone to show them the way. You’re not their friend, their little homie. They do not call you by your first name. We are setting the stage for respect.”
Dorothy Nins, now development director for the Power of People Leadership Institute, began as a Girls Taking Action lead mentor three years ago. She said that while she knows she has made an impact on youth through her work, she has also personally benefited from her involvement.
“You can’t empower other people without being empowered yourself,” said Nins. “It invigorates me to go into schools and teach young people about their personal power.
Nins said she was encouraged by the large number of new mentors who are coming on board. “So many times the narrative in the community is that people don’t care. We defy that narrative.
“We know we are interconnected. If someone is hurting, it comes to my door. That’s why we say we are in the business of hope.”
Adoniah Israel of Moundsview said he was motivated to become a mentor because he wishes he would have formed such a relationship in his younger years. He attended the training and will be a Boys of Hope mentor in Minneapolis this school year.
“In my life, I found myself in some peculiar places, but I sought out the light and I was put in front of opportunities and people who were willing to help me,” Israel said. “If I extend my hand and they reach back, I can show young men of color they can be what they want to be if they set their minds to it. They are valuable, they are lovable.”
This year, the programs are expanding outside schools in Minneapolis, St. Paul and suburban areas, with new groups in the St. Cloud school district and an Ojibway tribal community. “We have a short time with these students,” Verna Price said. “We have to make every minute count.”
“We know to come prepared because some children are in pain,” added Shane Price. “I tell the mentors, we are on the battlefield of love, so treat them with respect. This is what you bring to the table.”