It is possible to be able to mentor and support youths without being face-to-face with them. Mentoring Positives, an innovative, referral-based mentoring program that has worked directly with kids and families in Madison for more than 15 years, has been showing how that can be done by adapting its operations and the way it outreaches with the kids to still be able to support and mentor youth during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve been meeting with a core of the kids that we have always been working with throughout the block and having some Zoom meetings with them. We have pretty much gone virtual like everybody else,” Mentoring Positives Executive Director Will Green tells Madison365. “We don’t have the kids out in the community doing their thing since the coronavirus pandemic started.
“Quite honestly, we’ve been designing programming around virtual programming and figuring out opportunities we can create for the kids,” he adds. “We’ve had to get a bit creative since the coronavirus pandemic started.”
Mentoring Positives works to grow strong, resilient youth leaders in the Darbo-Worthington area of Madison’s east side. The past few weeks, MP has been taking all possible steps to practice social distancing while still reaching as many kids as possible. However, the world-famous Off the Block Pizza, a major fundraiser for Mentoring Positives, cannot be made online.
Mentoring Positives created Off The Block Salsa and Pizza as a platform for youth to develop their skills and talents. Community purchases of the products support the program and help pay the youth wages.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Green (and staff) have been busy making those pizzas that the kids normally make.
“We are going to have the kids get more into the marketing portion of the program for the pizzas,” Green says. “The selling of the pizzas is a very important part of the Off The Block Pizzas. We need them to go out the door.”
Is Green able to make the pizzas as good as the Mentoring Positives kids do?
“Hey, I am a perfectionist,” Green smiles. “I got to get the sauce right to the edge and get that perfect distribution of cheese. I have to make sure it’s perfect.
“So my production time is still a little slow,” he adds, laughing. “I’ve got to get that speed up during pizza production. But I have to keep getting it right – that appearance is everything!”
People in the community can support the program during the coronavirus pandemic by ordering Off The Block products here.
Green says that Mentoring Positives’ goal is to make 160 pizzas a month. “That’s what we’re shooting for – two productions a month of 80 pizzas,” he says. “Hopefully the community will continue to get these pizzas out of our hands; it really is a way to help us at times like these to generate revenue to support the things that we do.”
This past Sunday, Mentoring Positives youth were able to host a curb-side Pizza sale out of the FEED kitchen on Madison’s north side where people could come by and pick up pizza or salsa.
“The kids are going to be virtually online so my goal is to have them to continue to put out these commercials and market in different ways,” he adds. “I think it’s a great way to show that the kids are still involved and still thinking about the work that needs to be done.”
Mentoring Positives has able to maintain a connection with its youth during the coronavirus pandemic by moving its mentoring sessions and other programming online and they are finding out that video conferencing (below) is a fun and effective way to reach youth and ensure their well-being. But it will be something that will be harder to maintain as the beautiful weather of spring and summer arrives.
“It is getting warmer outside all the time and we still have a lot of kids who think they are invincible so they are going to take chances and still try to connect with each other,” Green says. “As a community, we will deal with that and see if we can get them to follow some of these distancing guidelines.
“We’re continuing to do what we do and really ramping up what we do online so we can be consistent with the kids. We’re making the best of the situation. There’s uncertainty for us and there is for most everybody at this time,” Green adds. “But we’re trying to stay positive. I’m an optimistic person and we are going to keep moving forward and doing what we are doing.”
Green is grateful for the community support during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This pandemic has really slowed things down a bit and gotten us to think about things but I think it also gives us some clarity and is making us focus on the things that we really need to be doing,” Green says.
“It’s hitting our kids and families pretty hard. And it’s still early in the game for what we’re going to see as a nation and what we have to go through,” Green adds. “This is some really serious stuff and it’s showing us how vulnerable many of us are. But I have faith that our community will look after each other and that we will get through this stronger.”