Scottsdale nonprofit focuses on holistic approach to building strong neighborhoods

Scottsdale nonprofit Mentor Kids USA seeks to break the cycle of the poverty through a commitment to a holistic approach to community building. (Submitted photo)

Scottsdale nonprofit Mentor Kids USA seeks to break the cycle of poverty through a commitment to a holistic approach to community building. (Submitted photo)

The opportunity a child has to succeed is unequivocally influenced by his or her surroundings as they navigate education, social integration and the workforce, outreach officials say.

Mentor Kids USA, a Scottsdale-based 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, seeks to provide local families a place of support providing tutoring services, parenting classes specific to identified needs and faith-based mentoring services.

“I believe in what we are doing and it is just an extremely important mission we have,” said Mentor Kids USA Executive Director Aaron Parrott in a Dec. 15 phone interview. “We have started to focus on specific neighborhoods to bring a more holistic focus to those neighborhoods.”

Mentor Kids has been a Scottsdale-based nonprofit since 1997 but for the first 13 years the organization focused on one-on-one mentoring services, Mr. Parrott points out.

“What is happening in Phoenix and the greater Phoenix area, one-on-one mentoring is not designed to deal with those types of challenges,” he said. “We just had to go where it made the most sense to go. Where funding was, so we settled at 32nd Street and Greenway and 32nd Street and Broadway.”

Mr. Parrott says the idea of disconnected youth — meaning a young person between the ages of 16- and 24-years-old are not enrolled in school or employed — is playing a major role in the viscous cycle of poverty and crime.

“The family unit is so important. So what we say around here, the special ingredient is that we are working with young families and really working together is really what will make a difference,” he said. “It’s not like a kid wakes up at 16 and says ‘I am going to be disconnected’ — it’s what happened before that.”

According to Mr. Parrott, in 2013 there were about 93,000 disconnected youth in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

The two Phoenix neighborhoods that are the focus of Mentor Kids efforts — the South Phoenix Promise Neighborhood and the Palomino Promise Neighborhood — work out of local parks and through partnerships with neighborhood churches they serve as after school centers.

Two Phoenix students participate at the Mentor Kids USA after-school program in south Phoenix. (Submitted photo)

Two Phoenix students participate at the Mentor Kids USA after-school program in south Phoenix. (Submitted photo)

In south Phoenix the First Pentecostal Church Community Center, 2709 E. Marguerite Ave. serves as a site for the nonprofit efforts while in north Phoenix services appear to be focused on the Palomino neighborhood.

“What we are attempting to do is to look at all of those things — youth, family and community — to improve all of those,” Mr. Parrott said. “Those are the systems that impact a child’s life. If we just focus on one level, or one system we are completely missing the bigger picture.”

The engagement of the parents and guardians of these children is paramount, Mr. Parrott says.

“Their No. 1 issue they have identified is helping themselves succeed is English. It is really looking at each individual neighborhood and how we can help make improvements to that neighborhood holistically.”

According to Mr. Parrott, there are 250 children who are impacted by the Mentor Kids USA program in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

“And, 100 percent of the parents and caregivers are actively engaged in the program,” he said. “What we are trying to do is instilling those values and helping children create that vision for themselves. At the end of day, as individuals we make decisions to the right thing or to not to.”

‘A true shift in culture’

Ronaldo Lewis, Mentor Kids USA Board of Directors member, says this nonprofit seeks real change and those oftentimes start at home.

“This organization is up-and-coming and the type of change they are going for will provide a true shift in culture and faith in areas where it is absent,” he said in a Dec. 15 written response to e-mailed questions.

“Mentor Kids makes a difference on a daily basis with their after-school programming and hands-on connection within the communities they are in. You can drive by a park that was once vacant land in the middle of the south Phoenix community that with the encouragement and empowerment of Mentor Kids is now a vibrant park.”

Mr. Lewis says he is interested in supporting permanent change in the local neighborhoods that need it the most.

“All nonprofits are wonderful and all play their part in giving back to the community. Although, some may provide a fix to temporary but necessary needs. Such as donating items or a one-time financial assistance,” he said. “How Mentor Kids is different is how hands-on they are with the community by providing assistance and involving the community on a daily basis. Their involvement in what they are giving to is essentially lifelong.”

Mr. Lewis calls the Mentor Kids efforts in Phoenix neighborhoods an investment in the local community.

“This organization provides after school programming to families which are unable to afford it, provides educational and spiritual mentoring,” he said.

“It is a true investment into the Phoenix’s future with the return children who have hope for their future and new opportunities which without mentor kids may not have been possible thus providing enhanced community for all.”

Mr. Lewis contends Mentor Kids is a step in the right direction for local families to find assistance in times of need.

“The program is children focused; although parents are the guardians of the children therefore it helps the child if a parent has a need that mentor kids can assist in,” he said. “Mentor kids cannot be a parent to a child but they sure do all they can to assist in having a positive and inclusive family environment for the children.”

To learn more about Mentor Kids USA go to mentorkidsusa.org or call 480-767-6707.

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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