Good folks guiding you can change your life
Mentors are out there. You just have to look. And ask.
Mentors commit to sharing knowledge and feedback that can last a lifetime. Here, we take a look at local programs making a difference with teens through the pairing of mentors with foster children, through Friends of Foster Children Forever, and young women, through the Women’s Foundation of Collier County’s Junior Women of Initiative program.
We also explore the NextGen speaker series with its founder, Michael Benson. This initiative brings iconic leaders in their fields face to face with Southwest Florida professionals seeking inspiration and empowerment.
An inspiring mentor offers the opportunity to learn new skills and strategies about life, personal philosophy and paths to success. There are hundreds of magnanimous mentors in our community who’d like nothing better than to share their wisdom.
You just have to look. And ask.
in this issue
WOMEN HELPING WOMEN
On the Right Track
Junior Women of Initiative mentoring program helps teen girls succeed
by TaSheekia Harris
The Women’s Foundation of Collier County graciously sponsors a mentoring program for teenage girls at the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County.
Now called the Junior Women of Initiative (JWOI), young women have the opportunity to work side by side with adult female mentors to share experiences and develop important life skills. This program has positively impacted the lives of girls in middle school for more than 15 years.
Each JWOI candidate undergoes a selection/interview process to identify those who are most deserving of this special privilege. In order to receive the greatest benefit from this process, all JWOI members, as well as their parents, commit in writing to the program and uphold their agreement to attend all meetings and participate in all activities.
Tasheekia Harris - Founder of CDFS, Crowning Daughters for Success
The goal of JWOI is to pair young women from various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds with successful female mentors from the Naples community. Its intent is to encourage JWOI members to develop leadership skills and strengthen both their commitment and confidence to make a difference in their own lives as well as those of their families and their communities.
The young women participate in a series of workshops to develop self-esteem, public speaking skills, manners, social etiquette and professional behavior.
By working alongside the young women, adult mentors provide inspiring insight into their own lives, the obstacles they have overcome and the goals they have achieved. Many mentors have commented about how much they enjoy getting to know the girls.
Having caring and devoted adult mentors ask the girls questions with genuine interest in their ideas is new for many of these young women. They are thrilled that busy, successful women from their community really want to spend time with them, sharing a goal of inspiring confidence, character and leadership in the next generation of girls who need mentoring most.
Mentees participate in the program’s sessions twice per month for a total of 15 sessions. Each session allows mentors to facilitate lessons, answer questions that interest mentees and impart encouraging tips for everyday life.
As a liaison and facilitator of JWOI, I believe mentorship is paramount to the development, guidance and positive self-perception of these middle school girls. We live in a society that has undermined the beauty of character, and girls have easy access to influences that could negatively impact their lives.
Mentorship serves as a positive reminder that they are not alone and gives them access to positive, caring adults who are willing to meet them where they are. Research reveals that young girls in mentoring programs are less likely to skip school and more likely to earn better grades and participate in extracurricular activities, as well as have improved behavior and stronger relationships with parents, teachers and peers.
We have witnessed mentees who, when they enter the program, do not understand the impact of their choices, relational connections or the power and abilities they possess. In the past 15 years, hundreds of girls have concluded the program with increased self-esteem, higher regard for others and themselves and productive futures ahead. Among other successes, three JWOI alumni were selected for the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year scholarship program.
It has been an honor to serve alongside so many phenomenal women as we empower our girls to be the best versions of themselves.
Click here to learn more about the JWOI mentoring program and to become involved.
by Kathy Grey
Jo is a 20-something FGCU student set to graduate this summer. She’s a grateful recipient of the Naples Yacht Club Blue Gavel Scholarship, a rising candidate for her master’s and doctorate degrees in psychiatry, determined to have her own practice as an adolescent psychiatrist for struggling youth.
“I want to be present for them the way people were there for me,” she says, reflecting on her life-changing experiences within the Junior Women of Initiative mentorship program. She’s determined to give a helping hand to others who are willing to embrace the standards, morals and values her mentors instilled in her.
Her journey involves emerging from a dark place with the help of Junior Women of Initiative mentors who showed her a light in herself she’d been blind to, a “different version of myself I couldn’t find on my own. Now, I have the knowledge from my mentors to honor myself, my energy and my body and not allow anyone to take advantage of me: to honor myself for who I am.”
It's fitting, then, that “With Patience Comes Peace” will be the title of her book, intended to “empower all walks of life to have a version of themselves they couldn’t see before — and to honor their journeys as long as they have patience.”
Jo credits mentor TaSheekia Harris, who “showed me what a mentor is” and for helping her see the light that had eluded her for so long.
“If you want to be seen, you have to see yourself first,” Jo says.
Having achieved that, she says, “There’s no turning back now.”
Mentoring the Next Generation
Michael Benson on the importance of idea sharing and networking
by Kathy Grey
“To be a mentor, it’s essential to have experience in the area you are mentoring someone in,” reports Business News Daily.
In other words, you can’t teach another person if you haven’t learned from your own experiences. To top it off, people skills play an enormous role in conveying lessons learned on a personal and group level.
That’s why Michael Benson of Naples’ Benson Blackburn established the NextGen Speaker Series events, developed over the years to encourage leadership, mentorship, empowerment and philanthropy. From these sessions, invited audiences of entrepreneurs, young executives and members of the community learn “to break through with their own businesses,” Benson says.
At these gatherings of about 250 people, the audience learns from the evidence-based, practical and anecdotal experience of world-renowned business thought leaders and have an opportunity to chat one to one following each program.
To date, these influential leaders — from Pfizer, Hertz, Wal-Mart and Best Buy, to name a few — have shared their pearls of wisdom with more than 4,500 attendees, including students from Florida Gulf Coast University, Hodges University and Florida SouthWestern State College.
“We’re always looking for the right people,” Benson says about the program’s speakers and its audience members.
NextGen conversations ignite a spirit of diverse mentorship among businesspeople “starving for this information,” Benson says, noting that entrepreneurs especially “need to learn how others have done it. You can only learn from people who have been through it,” he emphasizes.
Face to Face
“Networking is essential. That connection is absolutely critical,” Benson says. “We all coexist. I need people to help me get my car serviced. I need help to get to where I want to go.”
Expanding technology is a major force in our lives, Benson acknowledges, but, he says, “I still want to talk to somebody.” That connection, he believes, is at the heart of person-to-person networking, building a network of trusted people we can rely on to help ourselves and to help others.
Online “mentoring” provided by outfits such as TED Conferences are indisputably beneficial to society, he says. “It can get us there faster,” Benson acknowledges. “But at the end of the day, when someone loses a spouse, they look for friends. We need each other to get things done.”
To learn more, visit nextgennaples.com.
For over four decades, Michael Benson has been an advocate for his clients in helping protect and preserve wealth. Benson Blackburn was established to assist ultra-affluent families with the wealth transfer planning process. His client advocacy has helped protect significant wealth for clients, their families and their charitable legacies.
NextGen Speaker Series
Jan. 27 – Michael Feuer, Founder of OfficeMax
Feb. 24 – Tom Monaghan, Founder of Domino’s Pizza
March 24 – Angie Bastian, Co-Founder of Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP
All events will be held from 8-10:30 a.m. at Grey Oaks Country Club in Naples.
Go to nextgennaples.com for more information and to request tickets.
IF YOU GO
Come Fly with Me
New Horizons of SWFL signature spring event
Come fly with New Horizons SWFL and enjoy brunch, mimosas and all that jazz April 1 at The Ritz Carlton Golf Resort. Hear the inspiring stories of the graduating class and see a special performance from the New Horizons Choir.
The event will feature a silent auction benefiting New Horizons of SWFL, with a mission to successfully change the lives of under-resourced students by providing tutoring, mentoring and character-building programs at its trusted neighborhood clubs.
When: Saturday, April 1, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Where: The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, 2600 Tiburon Dr., Naples, FL 34109
More Info: https://newhorizonsofswfl.org/springevent/
Mentoring a ‘Forgotten’ Population
Collier foster children’s graduation levels far surpass the national average
by Kathy Grey
Last year, the graduation rate for Collier County public high school seniors in foster care exceeded the national average by more than one half. While the national average is 50% for graduating seniors in foster care, 78% of Collier County’s seniors in foster care graduated high school.
And, of that 78%, the 18 students involved in the tutoring program of Friends of Foster Children Forever achieved a 100% graduation rate.
The 300 foster children in Collier County are some of the most vulnerable to life’s greatest challenges, having been removed from their homes due parental abuse, neglect or addiction.
When children are removed from their homes, they are placed with a family member whenever possible. If not, they are placed in a foster home or in group housing, which cannot accommodate the need in Collier County. That means that, when the child is moved, they often go to a new school, leaving behind siblings and friends. Not surprisingly, this can lead to isolation and depression. Statistically, each time a child is moved, they fall behind academically by an average of six months, which compounds the obstacles they already face.
Friends of Foster Children Forever is a 501(c)(3) organization that provides educational and enrichment activities to enable foster children to reach their full potential. The organization’s paid academic mentors — teachers and retired teachers — provide one on one tutoring and guidance, even to the student’s age of 23. This is an enhancement made by Ann Hughes when she was named executive director of Friends of Foster Children Forever in 2020.
“Our academic mentors work closely with the schools throughout Collier County to provide excellence in education,” Hughes says. “Clearly, all our hard work has paid off.”
The 100% graduation rate for high school seniors in the Friends of Foster Children Forever’s academic mentoring program would not be possible without the support of the Collier Public Schools and Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF). NCEF’s Naples Winter Wine Festival provides funding for foster children with open dependency court cases to receive free tutoring.
“From the time this project was presented, we knew that providing consistent and positive academic support for children in foster care would be the key to long-term achievement and success,” says NCEF CEO Maria Jimenez-Lara. “The 100% high school graduation rate shows that (these children) are resilient and can succeed when given proper tools such as educational and emotional support.”
Friends of Foster Children Forever’s 41 academic mentors are contracted to work closely with teachers, tutoring the foster child in school, after school or remotely. The students are tested every six months to ensure that progress is being made.
Hughes notes that the organization is adding a “lifestyle” program for participants ages 16 to 23 to prepare them for the everyday world. This initiative augments the educational mentoring, addressing, she says, the needs of “the whole child.”
Friends of Foster Children Forever is a 501(c)(3) organization working to fulfill the unmet needs of children who are or were in the foster care system in Collier County. Visit www.FriendsofFosterChildren.net or call (239) 262-1808 to learn more.
Making Dreams Possible
For 18-year-old Lucy Scheffer, college was a dream … for other people. High school was difficult for her, and so was life.
Lucy is now a freshman at Florida SouthWestern State College in Collier County. She credits a strong support system — her grandparents, her two closest friends and Friends of Foster Children Forever — for helping her see the possibilities. And, because of her life experiences, Lucy wants to help others as a child therapist.
“I’m so thankful for the opportunity to go to college and the chances I have been given,” Lucy says. “Growing up, I didn’t think about college because of the environment I was in. School just wasn’t that important.”
An academic tutor provided by Friends of Foster Children Forever helped her improve her grades during her junior and senior years at Gulf Coast High School, and a $2,500 scholarship from the organization covered tuition for the crucial first semester.
“I was still in the process of getting my financial aid. Having the scholarship locked me in place,” she says. “College is a great experience. I’m doing a thousand times better than I ever did in high school. I get to pick my courses and learn about things I’m interested in. I’ve found something I truly enjoy.”
Friends of Foster Children Forever established the new scholarship fund at the Community Foundation of Collier County in late 2020 to help foster children obtain a two- or four-year college degree or program certificate at a technical college. Scholarship money can be used for tuition, books and fees.
Lucy was one of the first three recipients, each of them defying the odds of only 3% of foster children becoming college graduates.
“This scholarship gave me even more motivation,” Lucy says. “Because of the help and encouragement I’m getting, I can’t fail them.”
“I’m so thankful for the opportunity to go to college and the chances I have been given,” Lucy says.