For more than 35 years, before mentoring had its formal name, Founder Keith Leenhouts had dedicated his life and judgeship to providing a “circle of trust” around young people who had a small brush with the law, mainly because of no support. Today, after thousands of relationships built, VIP Mentoring celebrates its dedication to the young people of Metro Detroit with its 35 Years, 350 Mentor Challenge. Some of VIP Mentoring’s most memorable moments include being called on by former Governor Jennifer Granholm to kick off her efforts to decrease truancy with her Michigan’s Mentoring Initiative, 2000 for 2000.
And now, VIP is being called on to help forge the relationships with young men and African American male mentors. VIP Mentoring has been very successful in bringing the entire community to rally around mentoring. Mentors come from small businesses, colleges like Mary Grove, and corporations like Lear, Delta and IAC Group. The faith based community has also be a strong support of mentoring and supporting the children in Metro Detroit. Mentees come from schools like Wright Academy, Central High School and Romulus Elementary.
VIP – which stands for, Volunteers In Prevention – has roots in the court system as a prevention program, as a means to keep a criminal record from ruining a young adult’s life before he or she has a chance to live it. Founder Judge Leenhouts traveled across the world, working with other judges, to create another avenue for young people who lacked the basic resources to ensure success. He worked with his circle of friends, colleagues and associates – social workers, lawyers, court workers, and police officers to become what he called “community volunteers”. Judge Leenhouts described this technique, one where volunteers introduce their inspirational personality into the life of the offender, to befriend him/her, listen to him/her, and guide him/her through his/her critical first brush with the law. Judge Leenhouts was joined by President/CEO Jerry Dash, to put the pieces together to create a formalize program where young adults were introduced to basic social and life skills. Working with 36th District Court in Detroit gave VIP Mentoring, then Partners Against Crime (PAC), the opportunity to bring together two groups of Very Important People, those who needed a second chance at life, and those who saw the need to give back to people who just needed a little guidance. The program gave probationers a second chance at a clean record as long as they stayed out of trouble and completed the requirements of the program.
After hearing many of the young adults say they wish there was a program like PAC when they were younger, the program began working with Third Judicial Court as a referral source for children ages 7-17. Again, the program was used as a means to give these children a second chance to get it right. Then at a time when truancy was a big issue in the Detroit Public school system, VIP Mentoring connected with former Governor Jennifer Granholm to provide mentors to children dealing with the most severe cases of truancy. Governor Granholm and many attorneys from both the Prosecuting Attorney’s Association of Michigan and Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office were matched with mentees dealing with truancy that put them at risk of prosecution. Hundreds of children were matched during the initiative.
While working with this group of students, VIP began a partnership with Rev. Dr. W. Wilson Goode, the first African American mayor of Philadelphia and father of the Children of Incarcerated Parents movement. Having a parent incarcerated gave a young person a higher chance of entering the justice system themselves, and therefore could benefit from a mentor. Dr. Goode partnered with hundreds of mentoring programs over the years to provide support to a group of young people chances may be slighted by the absence of that parent who is incarcerated.
VIP Mentoring began a partnership with former Mayor Dave Bing in assisting in forming his black male mentoring program, BINGO. Mayor Bing is banding together with a group of African American business men, former sports players and community leaders to bring support to young black men who are in disparate need of their guidance, coaching and mentoring.
In 2015, VIP celebrates 35 years of service to the young people of Metro Detroit. VIP Mentoring will be calling on all old and new partners to celebrate through service. VIP Mentoring will kick off their 350 for 35 Mentor Challenge. VIP’s goal is to match 350 children/young people in 2015. VIP has partnered with churches, small and large businesses, government entities, community groups, funders and many more over the years with great success and will continue that tradition throughout the year as it creates much needed support for young people at risk who need it now more than ever.