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For more than a century Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri (BBBSEMO) has successfully matched caring adult mentors with the region’s most disadvantaged youth to encourage and support the youth and help them improve the quality of their lives. This mission is consistent with Incarnate Word Foundation’s commitment to programs that focus on the economically poor and children.
BBBSEMO was one of several agencies awarded Foundation grants for 2017. Grant funding will help support the agency’s Project 2020, an initiative that provides multi-year mentoring for 20 impoverished young people in Dutchtown, O’Fallon, Penrose and Gravois Park neighborhoods. The Project’s goal is not only to ensure a young person’s success in high school, but also produce a student equipped to go to college, trade school or military life, and ultimately transition to a living wage job in the community. A team of mentors, parents or guardians, school personnel and agency staff will contribute to the project.
The foundation’s grant money will help underwrite the cost of the program which Chief Resource Officer Jodi Woessner said is $2,100 per student. Costs incurred include providing wrap-around services to ensure the students’ high school success, introducing students to a variety of career paths and institutions, and meeting other needs along the way. Thanks to a local philanthropist the high school students are in line for $40,000 in college scholarships. Jodi said it is her agency’s goal to make sure the selected youth have the skills and experiences to make them eligible for the scholarship money, turning the $2,100 expenditures into an $800,000 return.
Important elements of this program include a close relationship with local public schools where agency personnel will be alerted if a young person is slipping in areas including grades, attendance or behavior. Additional services can be provided if health or social concerns arise for the young person or their family. And agency support doesn’t stop with post high school decisions. Jodi said mentors typically stay with their young people for six years, and ideally will be available during college, trade school or military service. The agency has also introduced a program for young people who have completed post-high school education and have to learn the ins and outs of networking and career building. “Our goal is a living wage job by the time the young person is 26,” Jodi said.
The worthiness of this project is undeniable, Jodi said. Young people in the communities identified in this project live in poverty, typically in single-parent households, and experience violence and mental illness on a regular basis. Project 2020, with the help of the Incarnate Word Foundation and other community partners including the Scholarship Foundation, St Louis Public Schools and the Metropolitan Police Department is a collaboration to provide eligible young people with the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and change their lives.
“Caring adults make a big difference in a young person’s life.”