The women realized they were positioned to be more than teachers. “Legal issues, housing, family, friends, girlfriend,” Spain says. “All of those things we were involved in because we had earned their trust.”
Louchheim and Spain also found themselves serving as de facto advocates for the young men, following up with caseworkers, lawyers, or parents. Eventually, they realized this kind of support needed a full-time effort. So instead of taking the usual path for bright law school graduates – lucrative internships or prestigious clerkships – they started Mentoring Today with a couple of credit cards and a promise they made to each other at Spain’s kitchen table.
“We said, ‘I’ll hire you if you hire me,’ ” Spain says. “It was a deal.”
Flash-forward five years. Mentoring Today now has a solid track record. It has inspired mentors to donate more than 1,800 volunteer hours, which have helped more than 30 young men remake their lives. Last year, the nonprofit raised more than $350,000 from donors and grantmakers to fund its services.
The women defined “success” differently than do many at-risk youth programs. Although 92 percent of those they mentor have continued with their education, for example, those who end up behind bars again aren’t written off. When one of Spain’s early mentoring subjects returned to a lockup, she still saw progress: He’d learned to read and write and could write letters to her.
Mentoring Today’s willingness to stand by its young people is “the biggest proof” of its success, says
David Muhammad, chief of committed services for the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) in the district.