Guiding a new generation

Published 2:48 pm Wednesday, November 25, 2009

FRANKLIN — Dr. Princella Johnson knows what it’s like to grow up with minimal parental involvement.

“I was always waiting for someone to come and help me, and nobody ever came,” she said. “So I understand the feeling of some of the children.”

Despite the lack of support, Johnson said she was a successful student who didn’t get into trouble; however, she knows that children who lack parental involvement are much more likely to fall victim to gangs, drug and alcohol abuse and risky sexual behaviors.

To help combat the negative forces that attract young people, Johnson and her husband, Maurice, formed Millennial Mentoring Youth Academy LLC, also known as Y2K Academy.

Y2K Academy, which is certified by or is a member of several national mentoring groups, has been operating in Franklin Business Incubator for seven months and serves an area that includes both Franklin and Suffolk. Johnson said she has almost met her goal of having 15 mentors by then end of this year.

“We are not a recreational mentoring program,” she said. “We are an academic support and workforce development mentoring program. We work with our youth to empower them.”

Johnson said mentoring tends to carry certain negative connotations, such as that it’s for children in the juvenile justice system or who are having difficulties at home. However, that’s not always the case.

“We tend to believe that there are a lot of our children that are just falling through the cracks, and we don’t want to miss them,” she said. “We want to get those underachievers and average young people who may not have the parental involvement that some of the other children have.”

The Johnsons use statistics to get their point across about how badly mentors are needed here. They’re concerned with test scores in local schools and high teenage pregnancy and dropout rates in Franklin and Suffolk. They’re also concerned about the high rates both of homicide among young black men and of HIV/AIDS infection among young black women.

“There’s a lot of negativity about young people,” she said. “We want some positive things out there.”

Y2K Academy uses a three-pronged approach, involving character and healthy relationship education, social and vocational mentoring and counter-cultural activities, interventions and even received a personalized letter and video of support from Gov. Timothy Kaine.

Y2K Academy is currently seeking mentors, both male and female from all backgrounds, to work with young people in Western Tidewater.

“Our major focus is to continue to recruit,” Johnson said. “We want to have the ability to match them with someone who closely matches with their circumstances.”

While they are looking for both male and female mentors, male mentors are especially desired.

Numerous studies show that mentoring can reduce risky behaviors like violence and drug and alcohol use. Studies also show that mentoring can improve self-esteem, improve grades and behavior, enhance social skills and emotional well being and even help improve family relationships.

Y2K Academy holds several orientations for new mentors. The next will be held at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 11 at the Franklin Business Incubator. Prospective mentors are asked to register in advance.

New mentors are subject to a stringent screening process including random drug testing and an FBI background check. New mentors must commit to spend at least one hour a week with their mentee for one year.

For more information or to donate, visit Y2Kacademy.com.