Life for a middle schooler is rarely easy. Pressures from family, friends, school and beyond pull young teens in every direction. Fourteen-year-old Max of Mountainside Middle School is no different. He and other teens from across Spokane and Coeur d’Alene are finding ways to connect, express themselves and deal with all the trials and tribulations of adolescence in the Reach & Rise® youth mentoring program at the YMCA.
Max finds talking to his peers and adult mentors in a relaxed, non-judgmental setting provides different opportunities for growth than just talking to friends or family. Mentors and mentees meet once a week for up to 16 weeks during the year with Max’s group meeting at the North YMCA. “It helps talking about stress and anything else. You can’t always talk to family because they may be too close to the situation. When you talk to people your age, they understand and you don’t feel dismissed.”
Entering the program was a bit of a leap of faith for Max, who was skeptical about sharing feelings with people he’s never met before. “I was timid to share for sure. I was scared to put myself out there and be myself, afraid of the repercussions. This has helped show me that it’s okay to be yourself. To like what you like and trust people.” Max says one of the positives he has gained from attending the program is not dreading new things, and his mother has seen those changes first-hand.
“He’s been happier, more open and more willing to try new things,” says his mom Melissa. “This has given him a place to cultivate leadership, team building and life skills. There are too few places for kids to learn from one another, to learn skills that you will need every day of your life. He’s getting that here.” Melissa sees certain things that aren’t taught in school or in the home that can be invaluable lessons, “it has helped him articulate his feelings and that always helps communication…and that applies to your whole life.” Melissa says there are not a lot of options for teens to have these positives experiences in a safe, supervised environment, “this program is unique in the opportunities it has, plus it’s free! I don’t know why any parent wouldn’t want their kid in Reach and Rise.”
With social media becoming an increasingly large part of adolescent life, Max finds that often kids his age don’t want to be vulnerable and say what’s on their heart, “everybody is so wrapped up in being fake. They’re so worried about what they look like to others that they don’t share their feelings and help each other.”
Melissa is just happy that her son and others can find ways to navigate a tough stage of growing up, “Reach & Rise is helping kids, even my kid…and then they go on to become a positive force in their family and in their school.”
For anyone entering the mentoring group, Max has some words of advice, “you might be skeptical, like ‘Who are these people?’ but it’s fun and when you let your guard down. It has the chance to really help you.”
The Reach & Rise® youth mentoring program assists dozens of kids and teens across the Inland Northwest. Groups discuss and assist with bullying, depression, self-esteem, and any other issues associated with everyday life as a teen. For more information on how to enroll your child in this free program or to learn more about being a mentor, contact Tori Osteraa, program coordinator.