Laurie Moline knows there are numerous opportunities for Stark County children and young adults to find mentors — but she wants them to know that, too.
The importance of relationships and community connections was noted in a 2018 Northeast Ohio Youth Health Survey conducted by local agencies and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after an alarming increase in youth suicides.
"One of the things that they talked about was promoting connectedness," Moline said. "A lot of our young people did not feel connected."
Moline founded MentorStark in April 2020 after working with area youth in other roles. She wants mentorstark.org to be a "hub" for people to learn more about how they can find a mentor or be a mentor.
"It's very much about creating more mentorship and getting people more involved in programs that are out there," she said.
Moline also is a consultant with an Ohio affiliate of the National Mentoring Partnership, which offers free technical assistance — for which three local programs have applied. She also expects regional collaboration to help mentoring programs obtain new money from national foundations rather than compete for local grants.
One way Moline has promoted collaboration is through twice-monthly virtual meetings with program leaders and "community stakeholders." From these meetings came an idea for the Stories of Mentoring series, hosted by the Canton Charge and MentorStark, to discuss topics related to mentoring and area opportunities.
The series, in recognition of January's status as National Mentoring Month, featured a youth panel on Jan. 18. The mentor panel will be 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and can be viewed at https://www.nba.com/cavaliers/live/charge-panel-210126.
Maylani Miller, who joined a BeYoutiful Weirdo four years ago at age 11, participated in the first panel — something her mentor Ke'Aunte Tynette asked her to do after watching Miller grow comfortable speaking in public.
Tynette started BeYoutiful Weirdo in 2015 after discovering a lack of programs where girls could discuss self-image and other topics. The name came from words people used to describe Tynette growing up, she said, "because I was a shy, quiet little girl."
The program includes group and individual mentoring and events such as the annual Princess Empowerment Party, which is virtual this year but will involve nail painting, cookie decorating and Tynette's book of positive affirmations.
Miller said BeYoutiful Weirdo gave her confidence and someone to confide in.
"I honestly think everyone should have a mentor or someone that they can at least go to to talk about their problems," she said.
Stories of Mentoring panelists Paul Webb, a 2020 GlenOak High School graduate and former Junior Achievement mentee, and his mentor Justin Lepley worked together to establish Concordia Bracelets in the JA Company Program.
Webb, who plans to major in business administration at Walsh University, said the experience helped him become more involved in the community and comfortable talking to strangers.
"I actually had the motivation to get my grades up," he said.
Lepley, who owns Lepley & Co. plant stores and a marketing firm, is a Junior Achievement mentee turned mentor. He described exploring entrepreneurship at a young age as influential.
"The networks that I kind of started to develop then are really a lot of people in the business community and the education community that I'm still close with to this day," he said.
Lepley was excited to learn MentorStark was working on an "umbrella level" and believes collaboration will increase access to mentoring. He also reiterated Moline's statement about the potential for new funding.
"With some more organization and working together, we could really reach out to the region and go for more national-level funding and opportunities," he said.
Reach Kelly Byer at 330-580-8323 or email@example.com