The YMCA, Ensuring a Brighter Future

Y Mentor Mates

Improving the lives of local teens


Teens are achieving remarkable positive changes through the Y’s Mentor Mates program, which pairs them with a personal trainer. Matt Micke and Mark Mihalovic, Y certified personal trainers in their 20s, are ideal role models to work with teens to increase their self-esteem through exercise and mentoring.


“The program is amazing,” Mark says. “The amount of change I have seen in the kids is truly amazing to me. The kids’ ability to interact socially has changed so dramatically throughout the program. They are much better at interacting with other members at the Y, and are much more respectful to not only me but everyone else around them. A good majority of the kids are also becoming much more physically active which is a huge improvement.”


The Y saw a need for a program that would provide youth formal physical activity, along with mentoring, says Lee Walraven, Wellness Center director, who coordinates the program. “It was a great fit for the Y and its personal training department to take on,” Lee says. “The Y stands for Youth Development.”


Matt and Mark jumped at the chance to make a difference in the lives of children, ages 12 to 17. “I wanted to help create a more positive environment for the kids,” Mark says. “I wanted to be able to be a positive role model in the kids’ lives.”


Both students at UW-La Crosse studying exercise sports science, Matt and Mark are close enough in age to provide a “big brother” relationship but old enough to require respect of the teens.


Youth meet with their mentors about once a week. The program is tailored to meet individual needs and goals. “Some of the common improvements that I have seen or heard from parents are that deviant or inconsistent behaviors that once existed have become less prevalent and much more predictable,” Matt says. “The teens are much more cooperative and enthusiastic about being physically active and enjoy coming to the Y.”


Perhaps even more important but less visible, Mentor Mates offers a positive person for teens to simply listen to and to understand them.  One of the ways Matt motivates teens is that he lets them know that he’s on their side; he wants them to succeed, and to reach and to surpass their goals.


 “I make our time together fun by incorporating a variety of activities, such as training in the Wellness Center, playing basketball, volleyball, or football,” Mark says. “I also sit down and just talk with the kids a lot. I allow them to express to me how their daily lives are going outside the Y. Just talking with the kids, I can tell, helps them feel more comfortable around me, which allows me to push them to work harder while we are in the Wellness Center or doing some other activity.”


About 16 teens are currently participating. It’s often said it takes a village to raise a child, and that’s reflected in this Y program. The Y provides a lot of various activities to help keep the teens interested in returning to the sessions. “Mentor Mates works because of the atmosphere that we have at the Y,” Matt says. “Every staff member has been extremely helpful in contributing to this program and making it a success.”

By Kim Seidel, Seidel Ink LLC