Nonprofit group Resilient aims to mentor youth beyond the classroom
Lunchtime at high schools can present various challenges for teens. The scramble for food that may not be top-rated is among the least of them.
Fellowship, fitting-in, where to sit and with whom, and how to behave is often a core conundrum.
But not for teens participating in a mentorship program at Willowbrook High School sponsored by Resilient, a nonprofit Christian community development organization that partners with schools, churches, community organizations and residents to self-empower individuals toward positive change.
Each Thursday at the school, Resilient provides male role models to meet with male students during lunch hours. Volunteers spend time with students encouraging moral character-building and discussing how to develop life skills. But often the time is spent just talking about life and playing games.
Upperclassmen who participated with the group as freshmen now act as mentors, welcoming others and demonstrating the value of positive male relationships and peer networking, said Erik Engel, a Willowbrook High School social worker and board member at Resilient.
"The gathering is not structured but provides a safe, respectful environment for guys to hang out, but with different expectations. Here the goal is to become a moral man in today's society," Engel said.
About three dozen teenage boys of diverse ethnicities, some with special needs, attended the 11 a.m. session at Willowbrook High School, enjoying free snacks and playing chess, checkers and bean bags. More attended sporadically throughout the remaining lunch periods.
No one sat alone and all were individually welcomed and invited to join an activity or simply talk.
Engel said sometimes the meetings are more structured when students are focused on current events which can drive the desire of young men to seek discussion.
Additionally, graduates have come back to talk to other teenage boys, stressing the importance of mentorship and networking.
Joe Lewand learned about the mentorship program through the Christ Church Oak Brook Men's Fraternity, a Christian men's fellowship and Bible study group.
"I'm trying to go beyond and wanted to do more things in the community," Lewand said.
He spent time answering student questions about his career as an attorney as well as explaining some basic principles of law. Lewand also engaged in a three-way chess battle where he gave strategy tips openly to each player.
Neither boy objected.
"You want to play again tomorrow?," one teen asked the other with a smile.
"Yeah," the other said, while a third boy added that he should join the chess club.
On Fridays at Willowbrook, Resilient provides a similar format for teen girls to help them build relationships with each other and adult female volunteers through activities, guest speakers, arts, crafts and self-care instruction.
Resilient, a nonprofit community service organization, provides leadership development and spiritual formation for youth. The organization provides a host of services to residents within the Villa Park, Lombard and Oak Brook Terrace areas via: high school leadership initiatives, elementary and middle school mentoring programs, job training, English as a Second Language programing and community engagement with its partnering churches.
The organization is one of the 90 Christ-focused partnerships Christ Church supports annually.