Michigan Mentorship Programs Help Young Women Succeed

Petals and Pinecones alumni volunteering at a recent fundraiser.

Petals and Pinecones alumni volunteering at a recent fundraiser.

Courtesy photo

By Deborah M. Walker

LANSING, MICHIGAN —  It is a startling realization that each year countless young girls succumb to the pitfalls that produce barriers to success such as teenage pregnancy and drug abuse. According to DoSomething.org, 3 out of every 10 American girls will become pregnant at least once before their 20th birthday resulting in nearly 750,000 teenage pregnancies a year. The same report stated that more than 50% of teen mothers never finish high school. According to drugfree.org, teenagers who drop out of high school are more likely to use drugs. Helping young women avoid these negative outcomes, while maintaining a positive path to success, is what mentoring is all about. 

Theresa Bouyer, Founder and President of Petals and Pinecones, Inc. said, “Mentoring helps young girls learn that there are others who care about them even if they are in a situation when they feel very alone. There’s something that could be happening at home… So mentoring is a process of really getting to know the young women who come to our organization.”

Petals and Pinecones provide a safe space for young women to interact with their peers and mentors, explained Bouyer. Having someone responsible to talk to can help young women steer away from becoming a negative stereotype. 

Sarah-Grace Motley, Marketing and Communications Manager at Alternatives For Girls in Detroit, agrees that mentoring brings youth awareness of who they are and teaches them confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth. 

 “It helps to give these young girls, and even girls in high school, a person that is out of their familial unit that they can look to, that they can have support from and they can kind of model in behavior and their growth,” stated Motley.

The cost for both Petals and Pinecones and Alternatives For Girls is free. There are age requirements for both mentorship programs. The cut-off age for Alternatives For Girls is 18 while Petals and Pinecones serve young women ages 13 to 24. 

Motley explained that Alternatives For Girls mentoring program is aimed at high school students and currently is recruiting mentors for middle school students. She argued that the socially formative years are experienced in middle school.   

The pandemic

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting most businesses and non-profit organizations, young people have had less opportunity to step out and meet new people. This hinders them from gaining different perspectives from different people.  

Also, the isolation at the beginning of the pandemic left many students with more anxiety and worry.  The nature of young women includes social interaction with their peers.  The situations that young women are dealing with may exacerbate other emotional issues that may or may not have been present prior to the pandemic.

Young women need mentorship

Mentoring has many benefits. At Alternatives For Girls, mentoring focuses on pregnancy prevention, rejecting drugs and alcohol, and discovering untapped talents and skills, said Motley. 

Mentoring can also prevent young girls from becoming disconnected, that is not pursuing education or looking for employment. Checking on schoolwork and college preparation are some of the services provided at Alternatives For Girls.

Another benefit to mentoring is the ability to teach young girls to become mentors themselves. Mentoring others increases self-confidence and has a lasting effect on the mentor and mentee. Taking a stance for beliefs and causes and accomplishing goals while learning to trust others are all positive effects of peer mentoring, claimed Bouyer. 

Building a relationship with the mentee can be difficult to accomplish in the beginning. According to Motley, it takes a lot of patience and trust.  It may be a challenge but putting the time and effort into helping another person is an integral part of mentorship.

“It takes getting to know the girl one on one. It takes making them feel safe and trusting of you. Successful connections take time. You have to be prepared to share and communicate truthfully and with compassion,” Motley noted. 

Willing participants

“We’re truly a proponent of not forcing a young woman to be in the program because it doesn’t work. They’re not ready, they don’t want to listen. They’re not willing to trust and I’ve seen this time and time again. They have to be ready,” said Bouyer. 

Bouyer gave the anecdotal recap of a young woman who came to the program because she was forced to attend by her mother. 

“Pretty much the entire time she was there, her arms were crossed and she was not happy about it. She didn’t participate as much. I spoke to her mother and said when she is ready she can come back. She returned at the age of 16 and was one of the most committed members. She came every week that she could and did really well and was grateful that she came back,” said Bouyer. 

Young girls looking for mentorship may not know what to expect. At Petals and Pinecones, Bouyer expressed certain expectations that the mentees should have when deciding to join the program. 

“They should expect complete honesty. They should expect absolute confidentiality within the group. They should expect to create comradery amongst their peers that are in the group along with the mentors. They should expect to be able to feel comfortable and safe. They should expect to learn and to have fun,” said Bouyer. 

To help meet expectations, Bouyer explained that Petals and Pinecones cover 4 basic issues, but talk about everything. By discussing self-esteem, forgiveness, self-reflection, and self-identity (helping young women look into themselves to find out who they are), mentees are given the tools for personal growth. She argues that transparency with mentors is important because it allows young women to understand where their mentor is coming from. 

Bouyer expounded on the need to have an open and honest relationship with the girls she mentors. For her, mentoring is important because she can relate to the young women she serves through her personal experiences. Bouyer confessed the need she felt to give back to the community. She said her faith as a Christian helped her realize her divine calling to help others. 

Providing Community Help

“It wasn’t until I turned late 30’s where I gave my life to Christ and learned about who he was and learned more about the word (teachings of the Bible.)  I felt like He (God)  brought me through a lot of it to use me in this way, so I could relate to the young women,” said Bouyer. 

Bouyer stated she came up with the name Petals and Pinecones after her desire to open a souvenir shop. Although the souvenir shop did not come to fruition, she thought the name served well for the mentorship program. 

“If you know the history of a pinecone, how it starts and how it ends… It’s a beautiful flower at one point and it’s a hard shell at another point. It’s kind of how our lives are, so I felt like it went well with what we’re doing,”  explained Bouyer. 

To become a mentor at Petals and Pinecones, Bouyer advised the best way to sign up is to contact her either by telephone, email, or website. She expressed the need to talk to the applicant first. The next step to becoming a mentor is the actual application and finally a board review. Once accepted, the mentor begins training. 

“The applicant will run through either a partial or entire program with me and so it’s hands-on training and we go from there.  We trained two mentors in the last year and a half. They went through the entire program with me with our 10th mentee group and now they are ready to do their own group when we start in January 2022,” Bouyer said. 

Background checks and applicant requirements for mentors are common. According to Motley, Alternatives For Girls performs a slew of background checks on their applicants before they are selected. In addition to background checks, mentors at Alternatives For Girls must be at least 18 years old and commit to at least 1 year in the program. 

For girls looking for a mentor at Alternatives For Girls, the first step is to contact the organization. Alternatives For Girls works hard to find the right mentor for each girl. Motley said the hope is for each girl in middle and high school to have the same mentor the entire time she is in the program. 

“Depending on what their life circumstances are and what their experiences are, the amount of time that they are with us can differ. Our goal is to get them the support that they need when they need it and for us to always be a resource for them… If people are in crisis or need to get out of a harmful relationship or anything else hurtful, then they have somewhere to get those resources,” informed Motley. 

Bouyer said once mentees are chosen, at Petals and Pinecones, there is an informational meeting that parents are required to attend for minor girls. During the informational meeting, the date and time for the group to meet, during the program, are chosen. 

“I’ll invite the young women and those who are minors, their parents and we’ll go over the entire curriculum. Some of the issues we talk about are very private. I’m very clear with the parents that I’m not obligated to share anything with them unless the young woman threatens to commit suicide or threatens to harm someone else or participate in something illegal. I’m obligated by the state to report that,” said Bouyer. 

More long term mentors are needed for females

Mentors do not necessarily have to come from an organization that specializes in mentoring. Finding someone to serve as a role model such as a teacher or a counselor will work. Motley said finding someone the girl looks up to, in the industry that she wants to be in, is educationally important. Mentoring programs are interested in providing girls with the attention they may not get elsewhere.

What happens to the mentee after the mentorship program has ended at Alternatives For Girls depends on the young girl’s path and who her mentor is, stated Motley. Frequently,  the girls have virtual events or attend an outing every month with their mentor, but that depends on the one-on-one relationship the girls have with their mentor. 

At Petals and Pinecones, once the mentor program has ended, there is the option to join the alumni group. The 18-month program services 3-8 girls at a time. 

The Balancing Act in Mentee/Mentor Relationships

Mentors need to balance between mentoring and finding time for their personal lives. The biggest obstacle mentoring programs sometimes face is the ability to find mentors who want to help long-term. Because of this, Bouyer said she was the only mentor at Petals and Pinecones for the first 7 years. Many of the women Bouyer asked to join the organization were apprehensive about taking on the responsibility of mentorship in fear of steering the girls in the wrong direction. 

“I can understand that fear,” said Bouyer, “I haven’t received a lot of interest in mentors that have wanted to help. A lot of people just want to volunteer in some way and that would be great if we had our own place, but we don’t.”

Despite a shortage of mentors, Bouyer said she will continue with her work. Petals and Pinecones have completed 10 groups and more girls are signing up. Word of mouth is how mentees are recruited. 

“It has been a joy and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. If we can just find the right people to stay on board with us and help us through it,” informed Bouyer. 

Additional support for our girls

Mentoring is not the only service provided at Alternatives For Girls. According to Motley, Alternatives For Girls wants to help homeless and high-risk young women make positive life choices through services and opportunities for support. The organization offers 3 facets of help; a shelter, an outreach program, and prevention services (which mentoring is housed under). The outreach program provides blankets, sweaters, gloves, mittens, and information about the Crisis Resource Center. During hours of operation, the Crisis Resource Center provides support for anyone in the community to come and discuss their needs in private with qualified staff. 

“If people are in crisis, or really need to get out of a harmful relationship or anything like that then they have somewhere to get those resources,” said Motley. 

Alternatives For Girls because they will be kicking off their 35th-year celebration in January 2022. The organization officially turns 35 in September 2020. There will be a virtual Holiday High Tea on December 3rd, 2021. Alternatives For Girls will also host a Role Model Celebration in March of 2022. During the Role Model Celebration, 3-5 role models will be selected for honoring. Motley stated the dinner is monumental for Alternatives For Girls and hopes the event can be held in person. 

Bouyer said her plan for Petals and Pinecones is to one day have a center where the girls can return to after graduation where the girls can take a refresher course or prepare for mentoring other young women. 

Although Petals and Pinecones operate in the Greater Lansing Area, and Alternatives For Girls is based out of Detroit, Michigan, both organizations serve as a catalyst for young women in need of mentorship. 

If you would like more information about mentoring young women or need a mentor in the Greater Lansing Area, contact Petals and Pinecones at petalspinecones.com or contact them at 517-292-0054.

To reach Alternatives For Girls in Detroit, visit their website at alternativesforgirls.org or contact them at 313-361-4000.