Youth Mentoring Initiative Executive Director Talks Importance of Mentoring Young Adults

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January is National Mentoring Month, and leaders from the Fishers-based Youth Mentoring Initiative (YMI) are working hard to make sure youths in the local area who need a helping hand — even just someone to talk to for a little while — aren’t left behind.

Founded in 2008, YMI is a school-based mentoring program that partners volunteer mentors with mentee students within the Hamilton Southeastern School Corporation from fifth through twelfth grade. Mentors meet with their student mentees for an hour during the school day, and YMI conducts weekly training sessions for volunteers.

“If you think of Big Brothers Big Sisters, that’s a community-based mentoring program because their mentors take the mentees out into the community to events and things,” says YMI Executive Director Alison Gatz. “Ours is school-based in that the mentors go to the student’s school once a week to meet them during the student’s recess period, study hall or other non-curriculum time.”

Gatz says the one-hour mentoring sessions are often simply a matter of sitting down and listening to the details of any issues a youngster might be facing, and mentors can help with goal-setting and problem-solving. Those interested in becoming a mentor can visit the official YMI website to complete an application, undergo a background check and sign up for training prior to being matched up with a mentee.

“We want to raise awareness to let people know what we do — even though we’ve been around for 10 years it amazes me that a lot of people don’t know that this resource is out there,” Gatz says. “With January being National Mentoring Month, we’re trying to really showcase what we do here in Fishers. We want to remind people that everyone can help and give an hour a week to a Fishers student.”

YMI officials will be posting stories and testimonials from mentors and mentees on the official website throughout January, highlighting past successes of the program and underscoring the importance of community mentoring.

Fishers Fire Chief Steve Orusa, who serves on the YMI board of directors and currently mentors an eighth-grader and a high school sophomore, says mentoring for as little as one hour a week can have a long-term impact on a young person.

“It’s a great opportunity to make a difference,” he says. “And the longer you do it the better you get. Once you can build trust with a kid, that kid is going to empower you to coach them into making good choices as they go out into the world.”

Gatz says one of YMI’s ongoing challenges is convincing local business owners to give their employees an hour of paid time for volunteer mentoring since mentor sessions occur during the school day.

“We feel like what we do fits in with today’s trend of businesses wanting their employees to give back, as well as Mayor Fadness’s recent focus on mental health,” she says. “Hopefully, as we get the word out more and more, businesses will embrace the idea of making time for kids in Fishers.”

YMI also hosts an annual fundraiser each August to generate money for mentor training and assistance to Hamilton Southeastern schools throughout the academic year. The event is typically open to the public, and individuals can visit the organization’s website for additional event details or to donate directly.

“I personally feel like every one of our kids is at risk in some way,” Gatz adds. “YMI was conceived as an extension of the guidance departments in schools, for kids who are at risk of not graduating or having disciplinary problems. But today, kids have so many things coming at them, as far as who they should be and how they should act, and it’s almost like we have to counterbalance all of those messages. It takes a village, and everyone can give an hour to help.”

Orusa says making a difference in a young person’s life can be a reward in and of itself for volunteers.

“Helping to transform a young person’s life is huge,” he says. “There are always moments in life that touch our hearts and bring a tear to our eye, and we put those slides in our life’s slide tray. With this, being just a one-hour-a-week investment, you can have a lifetime of slides in your slide tray of your heart being touched when you deal with these kids.”

For more info on Youth Mentoring Initiative, call 317-558-9641 or visit them online at

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