The YMCA, Ensuring a Brighter Future

Bobbi & Kiana

Y’s Reach & Rise Mentoring Program Creates Strong Bonds


      Bobbi and Kiana make the perfect match. If you see them at the YMCA, they’re laughing and chatting, walking side by side on the treadmills or around the track. They met through the Reach & Rise Mentoring Program, a national Y project that’s committed to kids and teens, ages 6 to 17, to help them achieve and reach their full potential. Since April 2013, Bobbi and Kiana dedicated themselves to meeting weekly. Their commitment flew by fast, and their mentoring relationship evolved into a friendship just as quickly. “Getting together with Bobbi is something I look forward to,” says Kiana, giving a genuine smile to her mentor, sitting nearby. “It’s not something I have to do like school.” They both laugh at the comment, but seriously, Kiana, a junior at Onalaska High School, enjoys many of her classes, especially English. She loves writing and reading mystery and science fiction.


      “It’s a nice diversion from the work week,” agrees Bobbi, a UW-La Crosse graduate, who coached Y youth sports during college and now is employed by Reinhart Foodservice. Bobbi doesn’t read as much as Kiana; she prefers running and dancing. Yet both ladies love to laugh. Just spending a brief time with them, you hear a few of their “inside jokes.” Kiana wanted a mentor who was laid-back; someone she could “chill with,” and she received all that and more. They credit LaQuita Brazil, Reach & Rise Mentoring Program director, for making the highly complementary match. LaQuita realizes the success the pair has experienced. “It’s been awesome for them,” she says. “They’re so natural; it’s really genuine.” LaQuita bases matches on personalities, goals, and proximity. Out of 17 pairs in the program, Bobbi and Kiana were one of the first matches. Mentors must be at least 23 years old; they complete a face-to-face interview and 15 hours of paraprofessional counseling training over five weeks before being matched with a mentee. The Y always ensures a safe and caring environment for its youth.


      Bobbi describes a mentor as, “A person you can go to for advice, someone who listens and who believes in you always. I believe everyone needs a mentor, no matter their age or situation.” Reach & Rise mentors come from a variety of cultural, educational, and professional backgrounds. Yet they hold a common goal to make a positive impact on young people in the La Crosse area. The program serves youth experiencing problems, such as low self-esteem, academic struggles, peer difficulties, family conflict, and/or poor decision-making. They represent a wide range of ethnic, socioeconomic, and family backgrounds, and referrals come through school and community agencies; family and friends; and self-referrals.


      Just a year since beginning the program, Kiana, wearing a bright “Be Amazing” t-shirt, radiates with a renewed self-confidence from building more healthy habits into her everyday life. Active meetings with Bobbi have included not only working out at the Y, but also hiking in Hixon Forest with Bobbi’s dog (they share a love of animals), and walking and shopping at the mall. Kiana describes Bobbi as a good listener. In turn, Bobbi says she has enjoyed being that “neutral party” for Kiana, who now more easily incorporates exercise into a healthy lifestyle, including riding her bicycle for fun and relaxation.

~  By Kim Seidel, Seidel Ink LLC