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On a sunny Friday afternoon, more than 40 sixth and seventh graders filed into the fellowship hall of a local church. Wide-eyed and eager, the children took their seats and ate snacks as they anticipated what would happen next.
A young man named Dominique Reese took the floor in front of the children.
Reese stood in the middle of the room with a strong presence and a voice to match.
“What are your goals?” Reese posed to the group.
Hands shot up, children excited to share their answers. From becoming a football player to simply growing taller, almost every child had a goal in mind.
Reese continued to speak to the children about rules and expectations, before they broke into groups with mentors to begin the first Advancing Adolescents meeting of 2019.
Dominique and his wife Christian are the founders of A2 Advancing Adolescents Inc. mentoring program, referred to as A2.
The vision, described by Dominique, is to establish lifelong relationships with mentees, while instilling morals, values and character.
“Our mission is to build relationships with our mentees,” he said. “We want an extra layer of support to our kids by teaching, guiding, loving and exposing our mentees to new experiences.”
The idea of A2 was born from the Reese’s personal experiences throughout their youths.
“I experienced my first mentor in the sixth grade,” Dominique said. “Throughout junior high and high school, I encountered mentors that followed me through college and into adulthood. Those group of mentors were there to answer questions, check up on me and support me through love and resources.”
When Dominique was a student at Georgia Tech, he knew he wanted children to have the same opportunities as he did through mentorship.
“Growing up in a single-parent-home, the extra support was needed, more so than I realized,” he said. “My college roommate and I started creating a plan for mentorship then. He grew up with both parents, and constantly told stories of his mentors, just like I did. At that point, it hit me. All kids need mentors. I wanted to create an avenue for kids to access mentors.”
During each A2 meeting, held at True Deliverance Holiness Church in Auburn, children are broken into small groups and paired with one or two mentors. Mentors assist the children with their activities, and soft skills are also discussed at each meeting. The meetings are concluded with a hot meal, provided by generous donors and volunteers.
Christian works directly with a volunteer operations team, as well as community members, to ensure each meeting includes a learning activity or a skill lesson. Skill lessons will include cooking, interacting with authority figures, how to tie a tie, how to use power tools, etiquette, and more.
“We want to teach our children life skills,” she said. “These are skills they can use for the rest of their lives and will even assist with securing a job one day. Our goal is to better prepare them for the world out there.”
Currently there are 46 mentees enrolled in A2 . The majority of children’s ages range from 10 to 13, or fifth grade through seventh grade. The mentor team is comprised of 17 mentors.
“We have teachers, therapists, coaches, community members, young professionals, law enforcement and clergy members,” Dominique said. “None of these folks were sought out. We came together organically. Each mentor has had a relationship with me or Christian in some manner, or was recommended by someone I knew.”
Dominique described his mentors from his youth as “very diverse,” and said the same of the current A2 mentor group.
“I knew that it would be important to provide a diverse group with diverse skill sets,” he said. “When thinking about pairing up our mentors with kids, we wanted our kids to have access to all mentors, and more importantly, we never wanted the opportunity to disappoint a mentee in the event one mentor could not attend the meeting.”
Although the Reeses reside in Mobile, they make weekly trips to the Auburn-Opelika area to ensure mentors and mentees are provided with the resources needed for the program to succeed. Dominique is an Auburn native, and Christian is from Phenix City.
The location for the meetings was decided upon based on the needs of A2 and the generosity of the church.
“True Deliverance, Bishop Torbert, and Youth Pastor Calvin Patrick have opened their doors and schedules to help accommodate our need for a location,” Christian said. “While we are located in Auburn, we have opened arms to kids across Lee County.
While singing the praises of True Deliverance, the Reeses also gushed about the support they have received from the community.
“Our community has been overwhelmingly supportive of our initiative and plan,” Christian said. “From the beginning, the buy-in was huge.”
Dominique and Christian said there has been an outpouring of support from teachers, community members, Auburn High alumni, parents, local authorities and True Deliverance Holiness Church.
Additionally, sponsors have been key in the immediate success of A2 .
“We are so thankful to our sponsors,” Christian said. “I am a firm believer of supporting those who support us. A2 is a brand new non-profit organization, and the support we have received is nothing short of amazing.”
A2 is currently accepting mentees and mentors., according to Dominique.
“As we continue to accept new mentees, we will need more mentors. Commitment is the name of the game with A2 ,” he said. “If you feel you can positively pour into our youth, reach out via Facebook or email, firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The Reeses are celebrating the success of their first meeting, but are already looking ahead to a bright future.
“The kids were everything I’d envisioned and more,” Dominique said. “Our mentors embraced our kids, and are now working toward our goal of creating lifelong relationships.”
For more information regarding A2 , visit thewebsite, www.advancingadolescents.com or their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/advancing.adolescents/.