With the high levels of crime and violence in the inner city, the youth in these neighborhoods are at the highest risk of academic failure, becoming pregnant or seeking a life of violence, drug and alcohol abuse and other deviant behavior. In the inner city of East Orange, Newark, Irvington and Orange. These four cities in Essex County have an estimated population of 798,975 residents. Essex County leads the charts in negative statistics. Over 15% of students drop out of school before the 12th grade and 60% of them are males. High illiteracy rates and lack of after-school activities have led to students being in homes unsupervised with single parents. These combinations have led to youth congregating on street corners, in abandoned buildings and in gang refuges. According to Census data, 85% of the students are from single parent families. 38% of the crimes committed in Essex County are committed by youth ages 17 and under. The school districts expels/suspends over 15% of its student population.
Elijah’s Blessings is volunteer driven which allows for the mentoring component of the program to continue even when resources are limited. The coordinators for the program have provided mentoring services for the past 15 years during poor economic times. Elijah’s Blessings volunteers work during non-funded years to develop resource acquisition teams. These volunteers identify all resources required to effectively run the program, then proceed to secure these resources from the community which allows for the continuation of services for mentoring. The acquisition teamwork is labor intensive, but it is done by these volunteers to the exclusion of everything else. For example, for field trips which are critical for the students exposure, one group may work only on securing donated transportation services for the non-funded period while others will another group works on donated entrance fees from local theatres, playhouses. New Jersey Performing Arts Center statewide non-profit partners often assist us in these efforts. We are committed to providing a well-rounded program to the mentees and being a positive part of their growth and their memories.
Youth are identified through referrals from the local schools, churches, parents and the court system. The youth are surveyed and attend an orientation/ meet and greet. It is here where we begin to carve out their individual program within the group sessions and introduce the coaches to the mentees. All are provided a code of conduct and it is reviewed together and the contract is signed. A copy is also provided to the parent as a binding document. Mentoring is a two-sided coin and requires work from both the mentor and the mentee. Trust has to be built and transparency has to be revealed. We offer a comprehensive program combined with education, culture and recreation. The youth have a generous schedule of professionals coming through to discuss career options and goals. The youth get to visit colleges, television studios, radio personalities, congressional and state representatives and a barrage of recreational activities all at no cost to them. Vision boards are critical to the success of our program as they help us measure growth of our mentees, as well as journaling.