By Karen Stokes
Poverty, keeping up with school, self-esteem, dealing with bullies, and domestic violence can be massive challenges in the life of Milwaukee teens.
Project Hope Youth Program is a non-profit mentoring program that reaches out to help. Project Hope Youth Program is under the umbrella of New Hope Youth and Family Services which founder and CEO, Rita Lee started by taking a leap of faith.
Rita started making an impact on the community by organizing city block parties to give school supplies to the kids, and to get the neighborhood involved in the community.
“I worked at Froedtert Hospital for 17 years, I was making good money but I stepped out on faith to start New Hope to do my passion for working with case management and helping families. I went back to school and earned my bachelor’s degree. After I graduated, God put it in my heart to find a building for New Hope Youth and Family Services.”
New Hope’s first location was on 60th and Center, but recently moved to a larger facility at 7113 W. Capitol Drive.
The Project Hope Youth Program’s mission is that all young people have strengths that need to be recognized and built upon. Their investment of time, energy, and resources into youth would result in positive cause and effect concept which benefits the youth in the present and future, while also benefiting the community.
Project Hope offers mentoring, seminars, a six-week job preparation program and coming soon, an after school program.
“Project Youth started by just doing mentoring for boys and girls ages 8-17. It started with once a week sessions where we would talk about certain topics like bullying, confidence and self-esteem,” said Tierra Lee, program director and mentor for the Girl Power mentoring program. “Most of the kids come from the community or group homes that are connected with Project Hope.”
“We started a question box so the girls could ask questions anonymously,” Tierra said. “They can ask any questions they choose if they have problems with their parents or boyfriends. They have someone to talk to not just their friends.”
Boys2men is the male version of the youth mentoring program. The boys go on field trips and at times discuss serious subjects during mentoring sessions. Paris Berry serves as the mentor for the program.
“This is a place where they know they can be heard, respected,” said Berry, Project Hope Youth Coordinator. “This is a safe place for them.”
“I’ll have an idea on what the group will talk about during the session and they’ll want to talk about something else.
They’ll have deep conversations where a 12-year-old usually wouldn’t get that deep. They will say things like, ‘I saw this at my house, what I am supposed to do,’” Berry said. “All the boys can call me at 2:00 in the morning or 2:00 in the afternoon. They can call me whenever, I’m there for them.”
Project Hope recently had a session on suicide called ‘Speak Life’. The session presented an opportunity for real talk on how suicide affects teens and young adults.
“The event on suicide really got to the boys because it dealt with bullying and cyber bullying, and the effects of how you think you’re being funny and you don’t know what someone else is going through behind the scenes, and those things can lead to suicide,” said Berry.
Berry explained that the boys literally sat up and paid attention and expressed that they didn’t know that their words could have such an impact on someone.
“Sticks on stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt me is so untrue,” Berry said. The program has had a few success stories.
Ariana (17) is in high school and came to Girl Power with very low self esteem. She always had her head down and never talked. Ariana had some issues. She was in foster care, and her mother wasn’t in the picture. At the end of a few mentoring sessions she started to talk about her experiences. She still calls and speaks to the mentors.
Taurus (18) was with Project Hope for a while. He came from a low income, violent environment. He eventually had a violent physical encounter with his stepfather, and turned himself around through the job preparation program. He’s working now, graduated high school and even thinking about writing a book.
“We continue to encourage the kids, and the best thing is to see them turn their life around and see them grow,” Berry said.
As with many nonprofits, Project Hope depends on volunteers and fundraising to continue to function. Coming on January 22, 2017, Project Hope will be hosting ‘Soul Food Sunday’.
For more information and volunteer opportunities call Rita Lee at 414-342-1303.