Freya Chang Rajeshwar
As millions of Americans watched Barack Obama's inauguration, they understood his commitment to equality, justice - and the power of individual service.
"I'm especially touched that President Obama is calling for serious community service.
This is a test of becoming the true young adult that President Obama is talking about," said Jeannine LaSovage, executive director of Michigan Reach Out!
"Michigan Reach Out! is a way for students to truly become the leaders and the best' and set an example for this nation."
Michigan Reach Out! (MRO) was founded in 1995 as an outreach program within the College of Engineering. At the time, the College of Engineering mandated outreach programs to help area children struggling with math and science.
Now, MRO is located on West Liberty Road and operates as a non-profit. Since then, MRO has developed programs in Detroit, Pontiac, Ypsilanti, and Ann Arbor. MRO boasts over 1,200 alumni mentors, many who are still involved in the organization's activities.
Michigan Reach Out! offers a unique, holistic approach to community service. MRO provides students with a long-term opportunity to get involved in their community and make a lasting difference in the lives of young children.
MRO's model, says LaSovage, said, centers on a "sincere commitment to do authentic mentoring, which requires some personal sacrifice in order to invest in the lives of children and their families."
MRO offers a way for students to move past typical fundraising and volunteer activities and calls for participants to get involved on an intensely personal level. When considering the impact that students can have, LaSovage noted "It's up to all of us to get behind your generation to improve this community. Your generation has zeal and energy and you need to band together to make things happen."
There are two ways for student to get involved in Michigan Reach Out. The first option is the traditional mentoring program. MRO matches up mentors with young children and requires a minimum one-year commitment from its mentors.
"[Mentoring] is a trusted, trusting relationship where both mentor and mentee grow," LaSovage said. MRO strives to make its mentors a major support in a young student's life: mentors are encouraged to make home visits to get to know the mentees' families.
MRO also sponsors community-wide activities such as potlucks, picnics and game nights, which further serve to reinforce a strong sense of community. Extensive training programs also prepare mentors for their commitments: throughout the year, MRO holds workshops that improve the communication and mentoring skills of its volunteers.
An alternative way for students to get involved is through MRO's "World of Work" program. MRO is constantly looking for local companies to volunteer to hold workshops for mentors and mentees. Participating students reach out to local industries and familiarize them with MRO's goals.
MRO aims to get local businesses to host presentations, tours, and shadowing opportunities for local children in order to generate more interest in each particular industry. The "World of Work" program focuses on a wide range of industries, from finance to medicine, to physical science.
This opportunity would allow students to strengthen their own communication and presentation skills, while also strengthening ties between MRO and the Ann Arbor community.
During her years at MRO, LaSovage has seen the long-term benefits that mentoring provides. She notes that former mentors have remarked on how skills learned during the mentoring process have been useful after graduation. Many alumni mentors say that the communication and leadership skills they built at MRO have come in handy during their adult lives, especially in their careers or personal relationships.
LaSovage notes that true mentoring is "not for the faint of heart." But if you are willing to commit to forming lasting, life-changing relationships through Michigan Reach Out, you will find that you can learn as much as you can teach - or maybe more.
Interested students should visit ReachOutMichigan.org and contact Jeannine LaSovage at LaSovage@reachoutmichigan.org