Ypsi Nonprofit Bridges Opportunity Gap

Mentor2Youth Empowers Washtenaw County Youth

Mentor2Youth is an Ypsilanti-based nonprofit established in 2011 that is still, “bridging the opportunity gap with youth empowerment, family involvement, and community collaboration,” according to its current Executive Director, Darryl Johnson

Mentor2Youth serves all of Washtenaw County, but primarily the Ypsilanti area. 

We interviewed Johnson to give us the inside scoop on the organization that is positively changing local youth’s lives.

“We’re putting the ‘neighbor’ back in the ‘hood’!” exclaimed Johnson, who has also served on their board.

According to Johnson, Mentor2Youth works to prepare Washtenaw County K-12 students for success in school, work, and life. 

“We work holistically with youth and their families, to bridge the resource and achievement gap for Washtenaw County students—with a Ypsilanti first emphasis—and keep them on a path of success,” Johnson elaborated.

There are many offerings that Mentor2Youth provides, such as Future Leaders, Youth L.E.A.D., B.O.S.S., and Parent2Village. Many of these endeavors utilize mentors to work with youth.

“Our mentors begin early, focused on building academic skills, leadership traits, and keeping children in school,” Johnson detailed. “We expand their horizons through career exploration, internships, and college preparation. And we provide resources so parents and families have what they need to provide a stable, nurturing environment along the way.”

Additionally, Johnson stated, their “Raising Royalty” framework uses the game of chess to offer a holistic approach to support and empowerment. They use a common colloquial phrase, “Life is chess, not checkers.” They use different chess pieces to teach certain skills.

“Mentor2Youth promotes an inside-out approach to teaching character development through the lifelong implications of everyday decision making,” Johnson continued. “The ‘Raising Royalty’ methodology cultivates effective decision making and character development in six core domains: Mission/Purpose, Values, Stewardship, Wisdom, Community, and Discipline.”

The Future Leaders, Youth L.E.A.D., B.O.S.S., and Parent2Village have changed in meaning over the course of their transition, Johnson explained. 

“Where they (the offerings) once stood for particular programs, they now speak to the constituency that we serve,” Johnson described.

More specifically, Future Leaders refers to elementary school age, Youth L.E.A.D. refers to middle school age, B.O.S.S. referee to high school age youth. The Parent 2 Village refers to the parent/adult cohort. 

“We deliver our Raising Royalty model to these different cohorts,” Johnson described.  “The Future Leaders get a high dose of our Knight program along with chess. 

The Knight program emphasizes academics and social-emotional learning. The middle and high school cohorts may get more of the pieces: Purpose, Values, Stewardship, Wisdom, Community, and Discipline.” 

Purpose, Values, and Community can be taken at face value, though few folks have ever experienced true community, according to Johnson. 

“By discipline, we mean the tools necessary to solve problems,” he further explained.  “By Wisdom, we mean Emotional and Academic Intelligence, and by Stewardship, we mean that we are all wards of the 5 gifts of life: our Bodies, our Attitudes, our Time, which determines our Talents, which we trade for Treasures.”

Johnson said the community can help with a donation, “but on a deeper level, we need volunteers,” he stated.

“We are afforded a great opportunity in Ypsilanti Middle School and we need volunteers for our 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm time slots on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday,” Johnson described.  

“Our Young King’s program is optimized with one instructor, one intern, and four volunteers.  With donations, we could move that ratio to two interns and three volunteers.  Once we settle our Ypsilanti Middle School delivery, we then can turn our focus to after-school programming and summer programming.  Your donations allow us to hire folks so that we can better serve a high-priority population.”

Johnson concluded by looking at the big picture and outlining the role Mentor2Youth serves.

“The current school-to-prison pipeline for Black, Indigenous, and Youth of Color (BIYOC) is morally and ethically unacceptable and the solutions that seek to simply interrupt the pipeline do not sufficiently address the problem,” Johnson stated. “There must be an investment in intentionally building new pathways that allow our youth to uniquely thrive. Thereby, moving our community from checkers to chess, helping BIYOC and their families assemble their own chess pieces, and showing them how to use them. This is our impact.”

Mentor2youth.org. 111 S. Wallace Blvd., Ypsilanti, MI 48197  734-905-7955