In a sea of non-profit organizations one is standing out among the rest with a unique service; partnering our nations at risk youth with mentors who wear or have worn a uniform while serving in our armed forces.
Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant and founder of Operation Heroes Connect sat down for an interview to talk about the mission, process and future of Operation Heroes Connect.
What is Operation Heroes Connect?
"Operation Heroes Connect is a nonprofit organization that partners volunteer service members and veterans with at risk youth. These service members and veterans are paired with local youth who exhibit an immediate need for a mentor in order to help them explore and access the support, resources, and opportunities necessary for them to reach their full potential and make positive choices in their lives. Each mentor and child is partnered up for the minimum of a year. While our main focus is mentoring youth, we also have a secondary mission, which is our volunteer mission. We devote our off duty time to helping out in local homeless shelters, helping habitat for humanity, organizing food drives, and other community outreach events."
How does your organization find youth who are 'at risk' and pair them with a role model?
"We have partnered up with local shelters who along with the parents and guardians have reached out to us for assistance. In other instances we have had school counselors whom have reached out to us and in turned linked us up with parents who require our program."
What are some specific ways your organization has helped 'at risk' youth in the past?
"Specific ways that our program has helped our programs’ youth is evident by the success stories that we get from our parents. The mother of one child in our program has stated that she loves the changes she sees in her son: "My son has really started to listen better and improve in his studying since the mentor has come into his life." Another of our success stories was one of our older youth, who although was outside the age range of our program which reaches from 7-17 and he being 18, was introduced to our program by his mother due to him being kicked out of high school. At the initial meeting between him and I, he was totally against having a mentor assigned to him due to past experiences that he had through other programs. Eventually he came around and warmed up with the idea and was paired up with a mentor who was able to help get him into a GED program where he was able to obtain his GED and is now seeking to join the Army."
What is the process for someone who wants to become involved as a mentor?
"There is an application that must be filled out once a member decides he/she wants to become a mentor that is screened by either a recruitment officer or myself. Next there is a one on one interview process. Once this has been completed there is a background check that is ran on each individual applicant prior to them being cleared for a “Meet and Greet” with a child who is waiting to be paired up with a mentor. During this “Meet and Greet” the child is introduced to two or three potential mentors whom they will get a chance to get to know. At the end of this “Meet and Greet” the child then picks whom he/she wants as their mentor."
Does being on active duty make it a challenge to run an organization like this? Or does it make it easier?
"Both, it makes it more of a challenge due to the fact my military duties do come first, and running the organization is something that I have to focus on around my normal duties whereas other organizations are able to give that full time focus to their organizations especially one that is continuously and rapidly growing such as Operation Heroes Connect. On the other hand in having to find members willing to volunteer their time as mentors for the program it helps that I’m active duty due because I am able to better exhibit that “Show and proof” I’m able to say that… “yes, you can be a service member or a veteran and still find time to give back to the community because look at me, if I can you can.”"
To visit Operation Heroes Connect online click here. Or visit them on Facebook.
Like James Robertson on Facebook here.