By Haily Jones
Growing up can be tough, but growing up without the emotional and social support you need as an individual can be tougher. Many kids live their day-to-day lives by routine, and have little positive influence to help encourage and build on their strengths. Mentoring opportunities, like Soar Mentoring Program seek to change that. Through mentorship, children can have positive, influential adults help them to reach their own successes.
Back in 2013, Soar Mentoring Program began because there was a shortage in youth programs in the area. 23 miles south of Washington, D.C. in Waldorf, Maryland, there was a misconception of supports that are needed for individuals, especially children. Founder Alicia Sayas took it upon herself to interview individuals within the community to see if she could help offer services that would benefit her community. Because Alicia has children of her own, she knew that the need to build genuine, nurturing, and encouraging relationships with children was necessary. After the community assessment, Alicia was sure that she should launch The Soar Mentoring Program. This service, in contrast to others in the area, would be socially based to help children develop skills that help facilitate social and developmental improvements and academic gains. Ms. Sayas hosted a Meet-and-Greet Community Forum in 2013, to introduce Soar Mentoring Program to civic leaders and the community at large.
Soar’s mission is to prevent delinquency. The goal is to help assist with cultivating skills in literacy and social development, especially peer-association. Soar meets with the children once a month, serving as a group mentoring program. A group format was chosen because Ms. Sayas imaged the group of students convening and supporting one another in an environment that is safe for everyone. Each monthly meeting, Soar begins by providing a healthy meal to each child, then as a group a topic is discussed that may affecting all of them. Together, they come up with solutions of how to solve these issues that may be challenging their own lives. These activities and relevant group discussions promote self awareness and personal accountability.
Within Soar Mentoring Program is The Tutoring Program, “Prevention is Better than A Cure” Wellness Program, and The “Giving Back Is Easy” Project. Ms. Sayas believes civic participation is essential at any age, and students within the program get to partake in learning what it means to give back to the community by engaging in volunteer service projects. Recently, selected Soar students got the opportunity to travel to Flint, Michigan to give back to others in need. Ms. Sayas took some of the children in the mentoring program to Michigan because she wanted them to learn how different social factors can impact communities. She wanted them to understand the importance of having clean water. Soar Mentoring Program partnered with Friends of Flint and traveled to Michigan to be a part of the solution of clean water shortages. The students got involved by collecting over 2,000 donated bottles of water from various individuals throughout the community. They also got the opportunity to visit the home of “Little Miss Flint,” who was responsible for bringing awareness to the problem of not having clean water in Flint by writing a letter to President Obama. Seeing another child who was passionate about helping her community allowed those involved with Soar Mentoring Program to see the importance of serving those around them, and having a positive impact on others.
Soar Mentoring Program runs throughout the academic school year. When school is dismissed for the summer, Ms. Sayas begins serving through the program’s Wellness Program. Being a Diabetes Ambassador with the American Diabetes Association, Ms. Sayas knows how important health education is for a community. Through this part of Soar Mentoring Program, the community as a whole is able to benefit from being educated on wellness topics like diabetes, HIV, etc. Alicia Sayas is dedicated to serving her community as a whole. She wants to offer as much as she can to those around her, because she feels that when a community grown together, it will thrive together.
It has been five years since the launch of Soar Mentoring Program. Sayas is the only permanent mentor of the program. How does she do it? Commitment. The program has continued to grow, and will be moving to a school-based program this year. With the school-based approach, Soar Mentoring Program hopes to be able to reach students who are unable to access the program for various reasons. The hope for this transition is to meet kids right where they are, and serve them based on their individual needs.
Soar Mentoring Program has grown so much since the start. Many of the kids involved in the program stay and eventually become program interns. Sayas said she once had a group of kids that were so shy and quiet. It took them an entire year of being in the program before they began to open up, but after that first year working with Soar, these kids ended up being the most open and talkative. After participating in the program for a few years, one of Alicia Sayas’ shyest mentees went on to become an intern for Soar Mentoring Program. The impact that mentorship has on children is positive and helps with their development as individuals. They work together to learn, encourage, and strengthen one another, alongside their mentor who genuinely cares about their success and growth.
Ms. Sayas said, “If you can mentor a child, it really doesn’t take much to see change. If you offer the opportunity to be connected, you will see an increased change, whether that be higher graduation rates, better attitudess, or higher self-esteem. I have been able to witness all of that in the growth of these children.” With genuine commitment, children’s lives are changing for the better. Ms. Sayas saw that the need for children to be nurtured was apparent in her community, they committed her life to serving. Because of Sayas’ devotion to mentoring, Soar Mentoring Program has not only changed students’ individual lives, but the community for the better.
Haily Jones is an undergraduate student in the English Education Department at N.C. State University.
Alicia Sayas is the founder of Soar Mentoring Program. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and MSW in Social Work from Howard University. She is a licensed Social Worker who has worked in the field of social work for 20 years. She’s a proud mother of two, feminist, social justice activist, and a volunteer diabetes ambassador with the American Diabetes Association. Ms. Sayas believes volunteering is “good medicine” and enjoys giving back to her community.