ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Many things in life are difficult to do completely on one’s own.
That’s why there are how-to books and videos, advice columns and Q&A sessions, and why one consults friends, family and colleagues.
But imagine trying to navigate something as bewildering as adolescence without any sort of guidance. Where would you be?
Youth Development Inc.’s Face Forward program provides guidance and other services to youth ages 16-24 who did not have the benefit of positive role models, and have been “involved in the juvenile justice system on some level,” says Lanny Leyba, Face Forward’s program director.
Some of that guidance comes from volunteer mentors, which the program desperately needs, Leyba says. “We’re looking for individuals that can be positive role models … and [are] trying to just overall make it a positive experience for the young man or woman that’s involved.”
Leyba says mentors provide both academic and emotional support, as well as occupational advice, and sometimes even career-based training.
“A mentor can definitely help us guide that student in the right direction in terms of making positive decisions, being a constant positive in their life and just kind of encouraging them and providing support on whatever level it may be that helps the student persevere,” Leyba says.
Face Forward also provides after-school tutoring, GED preparation, occupational-skills training and legal services.
“In our program, if the student is active and participating, then there’s an opportunity to have their [juvenile] record expunged,” Leyba says, recounting some of his own youthful missteps. “Many of our students made a wrong choice,” he says, “and they shouldn’t be haunted forever by it.”
Face Forward currently has 17 students awaiting mentors, Leyba says.
One of the students awaiting a mentor is 19-year-old Frankie Gallegos, who made a lot of bad choices from age 12 through 18, he says, landing himself in constant trouble with the law.
He says a lack of parental guidance left him without a moral compass. “My dad was in prison all my life … so I didn’t have a dad, and (my mom) … was always at work,” he says.
Gallegos says he’s come a long way on his own by reflecting on where his earlier choices have led him, but feels Face Forward is a positive influence, and he could benefit even more from a mentor.
“I was tired of not going to school and not doing anything, so I came here,” he says. “And now I gotta say I feel like I’m gonna make it.”
Jacob Cumiford, 18, is also in the program and working on his GED. “I didn’t have a good childhood” he says, which he believes led to his joyriding and fighting.
Now Cumiford is on track, working toward erasing his juvenile record to open doors for the future, and waiting for a mentor to “pretty much just help me with learning, and set me on the right path to good career choices.”
Leyba says in mentors he’s looking for “someone that’s just going to give some time, some care and some consideration in terms of helping a young person progress … just having someone involved and engaged.”
Face Forward mentors meet in-person with mentees for at least one hour per month for a minimum of six months, and via text, phone or email as needed.
Mentors must pass a background check paid for by YDI; undergo a short, two-hour training session; and can choose between team-based or one-on-one mentoring.
Leyba says, “It’s truly a rewarding experience when you have an individual that, through some trials and tribulations, was successful and got their GED, was able to gain employment … and is doing good things for themselves.”