New Curriculum to Continue Serving California Youth
As students across the U.S. head back to their classrooms, teens in Southern California are filling their schedules with brand-new activities offered exclusively by AGBU’s Generation Next Mentorship Program (GenNext). Ushering in the school year, GenNext has forged a number of local partnerships, expanding its reach to meet the needs of at-risk youth.
This fall, GenNext will join forces with the Didi Hirsch Community Center, Glendale Community College, and Glendale Healthy Kids. These collaborations build on the program’s 16-plus years of pairing Armenian youth with positive role models, and its existing partnerships with the YWCA and the Glendale Police Department. Glendale Chief of Police Ronald L. De Pompa praises GenNext’s impact, remarking, “In society today there are so many risks that our youth encounter [and] mentorships play a critical role in [their] lives…Programs like the AGBU Generation Next Mentorship program provide alternatives and help our youth recognize what path to follow in order to have a successful future.”
In the coming weeks, GenNext will recruit students studying social work and education at Glendale Community College to volunteer as mentors. The YWCA is offering GenNext access to its computer lab, swimming pool and athletic facilities completely free of charge. While the mentees master digital media, their parents will have the opportunity to learn how to monitor and safeguard their children’s online activities through bimonthly seminars at the nearby Didi Hirsch Center.
With these new additions, GenNext will further strengthen the bonds between mentees and mentors, which lie at the heart of the program. By carefully matching participants, GenNext creates friendships that last long after mentees have graduated. This was the case for Armine Pogosian and Sona Avdalyan, who met when Sona was thirteen. As both women recall, over the past five years they’ve become more like family than friends. They—and all participants—have grown close through GenNext’s one-on-one sessions and group activities, which include field trips, camping retreats as well as improv comedy classes designed to help mentees express themselves.
Sona, like several mentees, moved from Armenia to California shortly before finding her place in the GenNext family. This year, GenNext will welcome more immigrants from Armenia, as well as refuges from Iraq. As GenNext Program Director Saro Ayvazians explained, mentors play a key role in helping those young people assimilate. “Our mentors relate to these kids by sharing their own experiences,” he detailed. “More often, though, it’s the mentors’ ability to listen that is the most powerful. They allow mentees to feel safe, to open up and share things they normally would not.”
For mentor Arman Satchyan, establishing that trust has meant acting not as an authority figure but rather as a confidant to Alex, his mentee of five years. Arman is one of the many GenNext mentors who insist that the program has benefitted him just as much as Alex. He stated, “Over the years, watching Alex go through adolescence, I feel I’ve gotten the opportunity to grow up myself. He has a natural self-confidence that I always try to emulate.”
Instilling that sense of self-confidence in youth is central to the GenNext mission, and creates new opportunities for hundreds of mentees while inspiring them to give back. Had it not been for GenNext, former mentee Artin Arakelian believes he wouldn’t have graduated high school. Now a college student pursuing his teaching credentials, Artin is looking forward to becoming a GenNext mentor himself this year. “I want to find someone who is heading down the wrong path, like I was, and open their eyes, just like my mentor did for me. Shaping the next generation of kids for the better—that would mean the world to me.”
This summer, GenNext received a record-breaking donation of $80,000, raised through AGBU FOCUS 2013. The funds will help GenNext continue to serve local youth. Yet, there is an ongoing need for support and GenNext is continuing to recruit volunteer mentors and mentees to the program.
To hear more stories from GenNext participants, watch their video: www.agbugennext.org/video.
Modeled after the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program, the AGBU Generation Next Mentorship Program (GenNext) was established in 1997 by the AGBU Young Professionals of Los Angeles. In its pilot year, the program enrolled eight mentees. Since then, hundreds of students ages 12-18 have benefitted from the dedicated service of qualified mentors, helping them reach their full potential.
Established in 1906, AGBU (www.agbu.org) is the world's largest non-profit Armenian organization. Headquartered in New York City, AGBU preserves and promotes the Armenian identity and heritage through educational, cultural and humanitarian programs, annually touching the lives of some 500,000 Armenians around the world.
For more information about AGBU and its worldwide programs, please visit www.agbu.org