County program unveils male mentor program

BY KATIE HEINE | APRIL 20, 2011 7:20 AM

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Johnson County officials and some residents say they hope a new program to connect young men with adult role models will help their transition to the Iowa City area.

Around a dozen men participated in a recent training session hosted by the Council for Boys and Young Men, a nonprofit organization that provides training materials for adult facilitators to effectively interact with young males.

"There are a lot of young people who need more direction than they're getting," said Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan, who attended the session.

A similar program exists for young women, and officials said they hope to have the male program in full swing by summer.

Sullivan said he is enthusiastic about implementing the program.

RaQuishia Harrington, a family-support worker at Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, said the program will be beneficial.

One recurring issue she said she's noticed in her four years at the center is the tough transition some young males face as they grow up. Some struggle with the differences between the large urban areas where they were raised and Iowa City. And, on top of that, many live in single-parent households and often feel pressured to take on the man-of-the-house role, Harrington said.

In 2009, LaTasha Massey, a Johnson County community-projects specialist, attended a training session to become a facilitator for young women. She said the session was inspiring, and she asked for support from her supervisor to implement the program in Johnson County.

"[The program] was something that was applicable to the work I wanted to do in the community," Massey said.

Approximately 10 adult women received training to be facilitators, she said. Facilitators interact with young women as a means of providing them with an opportunity to decompress through conversation and activities, said Massey, an Iowa City native.

Java Jones participated in the girls' program, known as "My Beautiful Self," for the first time last year. The 15-year-old said she found the program effective.

"I felt so different about myself," said Jones, a sophomore at West High, 2901 Melrose Ave. Jones said the sessions focused on "seeing ourselves as we are."

After receiving positive feedback from young women, schools, and agencies, people began to ask about a male program, Massey said.

The training cost $300 per person and was funded through state funds for the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention program. Johnson County Social Services Director Amy Correia called the price "pretty standard."

"We're trying to move to the best practices and interventions that are tested to work, and both of these are good models," Correia said.

But now that a method has been established, the next step is finding and reaching those in need of a mentor, Sullivan said.

"We want them to know that we're here — were available to talk about real stuff," Harrington said.

The Boys' Council training program was launched nationally in 2008 by a nonprofit organization based in California. Cofounder Beth Hossfeld said the program's goal was to "break open and bust" some of the myths about what it means to be a male.

"It really matters that they have places and people where they can be real," she said.

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