HOLLYWOOD — Competition was fierce Jan. 7 at the Hollywood Boys & Girls Club as teens battled youth in a Smash Bros. video game tournament. While fun, the contest offered teens a chance to mentor younger club members through a new program.
The Hollywood mentoring program began last summer when the club had an influx of teen volunteers looking to secure community service hours. High school students must earn between 80 to 120 hours to graduate.
Boys & Girls Club assistant director Bryan Granie encouraged the teens to work with and be role models for the youth. He said many continued after the summer because they enjoyed mentoring and seeing the youth develop.
Hollywood teens grew up in the program so they have the confidence to take on the new role, Granie said.
“It is 100 percent a teen-driven program; they come up with the ideas and we make it happen,” Granie said. “Teens get the satisfaction of being able to lead and teach the youth.”
Sixteen teens mentor about 30 youth twice a week. Activities include soap carving, cooking, origami, music, crafts and games. Staff members give them structure and supervise activities.
“It’s clear in the way they all act that it is fun for both sides – youth and teens,” Granie said. “A lot of the youth look forward to the day they turn 12 and can graduate into the teen side.”
Caidence Smith, 11, is one example. She helped Brian Billie, 8, construct a catapult Jan. 7 to fling Fruit Loops in a longest-distance-launched contest.
To better transition youth into the less-structured teen program, Boys & Girls Club counselor Andrea Stinson assigns a mentor to the 11-year-olds so they can spend time in the teen center.
Criteria for mentors is strict; they must have at least 60 percent monthly attendance, previous volunteer experience and teen center participation. The teens must also generate ideas, work well with others and be good students.
“They should exemplify what we stand for,” Stinson said. “We hold them to higher standards as mentors since the youth look up to them.”
Stinson said she has noticed significant changes in the mentors, especially in the older teens.
“I see the teens maturing into leadership positions,” Stinson said. “I tell them I’m proud of them. Mentoring gives them the opportunity to make their mark in the center.”
Brent Frank, 16, organized the Smash Bros. tournament because he wanted to include the youth, who play the same games in the youth center. Brent took charge, set up the bracket and kept score.
The winner of the tournament was Franklin Primeaux, 10.
The mission of Boys & Girls Club is to enable all young people to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. Director Robert North believes the mentoring program plays an important part in that mission.
“We are planting seeds and watching them take root,” North said. “Mentoring helps them for the bigger picture in the world and gives them real work experience with counselors, peers and younger children. It teaches patience and gives teens a sense of accomplishment on which they can build for success.”