This article is part of a series, produced in cooperation with the Chicago Sun-Times and the Illinois Mentoring Partnership, to celebrate National Mentoring Month in January 2016.
“This program helped me think more seriously about a career,” said Jeremiah Williamson, a junior in high school, about Midtown Center for boys, an after-school program which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015.
“I was entertaining ideas about becoming a PR agent and it got me thinking…I want to do stuff with writing, advertising, or entertaining others,” he continued. While most boys his age spent last summer in mundane, minimum-wage jobs, Jeremiah opted to road test a potential career in journalism, public relations and communication.
Midtown helps youth in grades 4–12 to achieve academic success. For high schoolers, Midtown offers summertime apprenticeships in five different tracks: architecture, business, engineering, public relations/communication, and law. Programs are taught by teams of working professionals and participants receive a $400 stipend upon completion. Students in the public relations/communication track crank out weekly editions of The Midtown Voice, an eight-page newspaper with feature articles, product reviews, sports stories and commentary.
One of the unique aspects about the apprenticeship program is that “youth get to see the end results of their hard work,” said Mike Walsh, who manages the College Orientation Program at Midtown.
Through his apprenticeship, Jeremiah was able to create a strong mentoring relationship with Terrence McDaniel, the lead instructor of the PR/communication track and current graduate student in public relations at DePaul University.
McDaniel was attracted to the apprenticeship program because he feels that minorities are underrepresented in public relations and he was interested in empowering kids to get involved in the field.
After meeting for the first time, McDaniel saw a lot of himself in Jeremiah and knew just how to help foster that potential.
“Jeremiah comes with an infectious energy; he’s a self-starter,” said McDaniel. “He can manage the environment. He’s bold. He’s articulate. He’s smart.”
According to Jeremiah's mother, the mentoring relationship with her son began to form from day one. She encouraged McDaniel to push her son because she believed he could handle the responsibility.
Going through the program and having a mentor like McDaniel has been life-changing for Jeremiah. He claims the experience helped improve his writing skills and expand his mind by teaching him more about the communication business. It also taught him the value of mentors.
“One thing I know about mentors is that they don’t feel like regular teachers,” Jeremiah noted. “I feel like Mr. McDaniel is a person to look up to and learn from. I see him as a good role model. He’s there to help others. He inspired me to be more like him.”
Contributed by Karen Tran, a New Sector Alliance Fellow at the Illinois Mentoring Partnership.