Best Friends Mentoring Program unites at risk youth with positive role models to be an extra support for them in the school or in the community setting.

“It’s hard to believe in North Dakota because there are a lot of good homes based on family values here related to agriculture and family and land, but unfortunately we are dealing with substance abuse issues here that ring far and true in Dickinson and a lot of the rural communities that we work in,” says Mark Billings, Program and Communications Coordinator for Best Friends Mentoring Program.

The power of mentorship

Mentorship is the main avenue Best Friends Mentoring Program uses to guide youth towards positive behaviors and community connectedness.

“Mentoring is a very quick way to provide a link to a kid who is maybe hurting, who is lonely, at risk for certain risky behaviors, that can lead them away from that path and lead them to something that is unique to them, that is positive about them. It might be bringing out something about them that they don’t know a bout themselves,” says Mark.

One mentor, Jonathan Aman, is a senior studying biology at Dickinson State University. He loves working with his ‘buddy’ or mentee because it gives him an opportunity to invest in youth and boost someone who needs it.

Jonathan and a mentee

“I am solely there to lift him and elevate him in ways so that he can be more prepared,” says Jonathan.

Jonathan and his buddy spend roughly two hours together each week working on homework, talking about challenges, and pushing themselves to be better.

“The mentees have somebody they know is there for them,” says Jonathan.

Many mentor-mentee pairs form close relationships while working together because of the trust and support that go into the mentorship pair. However, it isn’t only the mentees who benefit.

“He is helping me, and people don’t really notice that,” says Jonathan. “I feel like I have a little brother.”

Grassroots and growing

“Best Friends Mentoring Program is a grassroots, immediate way to provide an infusion of things that kids in our community need right away. Without it, a lot of these kids spend their days unconnected from the capital and the resources they need to be able to move forward,” says Mark.

This is why the program is an essential part of the community.

“If you have mentors in the community, it reiterates lessons over and over again which will distill them more strongly in kids,” says Jonathan.

When the program started in 1994 there were only two mentors. Now, Jonathan is one of one hundred volunteer mentors.

A path forward

“There’s a part of each of them that I see in myself when I was an elementary school kid, a kid who was disconnected, was maybe bullied in some ways, and I grew up with a very strong family support unlike a lot of these kids who have very fractured family supports, but I could have benefited from a mentor. It wasn’t until I was a little older and I developed a connection to music and the band that I started forming a lot of my social connections which helped me move forward,” says Mark.

Best Friends Mentoring Program invests heavily in the youth in their community because they know that mentorship can help change their lives which can in turn have greater implications for those around them.

“At the end of the day, kids are the future,” says Jonathan.

Stay tuned for another nonprofit story next week, and remember to live with purpose!

Derek Hatzenbuhler

Author Derek Hatzenbuhler

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