Asheville Parks & Recreation mentorship program focuses on building student support

As members of a shared community, neighbors, family members, coworkers, and friends often share lived experiences that help others navigate similar situations and grow through self-reflection. Their support and knowledge can offer direction and help develop goals.

With the idea that one conversation, one experience, and one mentor can change a young person’s life, Asheville Parks & Recreation (APR) created the Go! Guiding Others mentorship program with a grant from National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). The initial program serves as an alternative to school suspension and focuses on restorative practices, building self-confidence through recreational opportunities, academic improvement, employment and life skills, healthy relationships with adults and peers, and alternatives to drugs and alcohol. In 2024, Go! Guiding Others’ framework extends to APR Afterschool programs.

“With decades of providing wellness services, afterschool care, youth sports leagues, and other recreational and educational opportunities, Asheville Parks & Recreation and its partners already serve a consistent and critical role in the lives of hundreds of local youth and families,” according to D. Tyrell McGirt, APR Director. “Mentoring, at its core, guarantees our community’s young people that there is someone who cares about them, assures they are not alone in dealing with day-to-day challenges, and makes them feel like they matter. Mentorship is the foundation of many of our opportunities critical to youth development that foster civic involvement, imagination and creativity, healthy habits, teamwork, social equity, emotional stability, mutual trust, and environmental responsibility – and, ultimately, train the next generation of leaders to make Asheville a happier, healthier, and safer place for everyone.”

Go! Guiding Others

Asheville was chosen as one of just 20 communities across the country to receive $70,000 in funding over two and a half years to integrate more intentional one-on-one and group meeting activities into existing afterschool, sports, environmental and outdoor education, and arts and culture programs through a Mentoring for Youth Impacted by Substance Misuse award. This grant is funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in the U.S. Department of Justice and administered by NRPA, the national not-for-profit organization dedicated to building strong, vibrant and resilient communities through the power of parks and recreation.

“Given the many challenges facing teenagers and young people in Asheville today, the need for high-quality and community-based mentoring programs is more important than ever,” says Angel Redmond, Go! Guiding Others Mentoring Program Coordinator and Stephens-Lee Community Center Facility Supervisor. “One of the biggest challenges facing our youth is the increased abuse and misuse of substances on and off school campuses – with a serious uptick involving middle school students. This mentoring program comes right on time, combining our continued effort to serve the community while creating safe spaces for our most vulnerable and high-risk youth.”

Go! Guiding Others potential outcomes include building positive relationships with peers and mentors, exposing and providing recreational opportunities that teach team building skills, and continued community building through partnerships with specific agencies that target hard-to-reach demographics.

“The mental health crisis is also a challenge in our community,” Redmond continues. “Currently, our schools utilize restorative practices, a social science that studies how to improve and repair relationships between people and communities. Both individuals and relationships must heal after harm occurs in the school community. Since students living with mental health illnesses often experience social and emotional skill deficits that leave them isolated or cut off from the  larger school population, restorative practices in combination with mentorship framework provide continued efforts to raise self awareness, thereby increasing empathy and social support.”

This grant is specifically designed to support youth living in communities with high rates of substance misuse including addiction, substance use disorder, and opioid misuse, as well as youth who have experienced substance misuse directly in the home or personally. In alignment with APR’s equity goals, this grant will prioritize mentoring services to reach historically disenfranchised populations, specifically youth from Black, Hispanic, Latino, LGBTQAI+, and low-income communities.

Building on a History of Student Mentorship

APR previously created and oversaw a youth employment program that exposed local students to a wide array of job experiences. Running for three years, the program required young people to volunteer eight hours each week as mentors throughout the summer. 

The department later developed a teen leadership program in which middle and high school students created curriculum based off of their own passions to give back to their community and inspire youth and other peers. Participants volunteered four hours each week throughout the school year to mentor elementary school kids with reading and math skills, cleaned basements and provided lawn care for older adults, and participated in Toastmasters programs to increase comfort levels with public speaking. This program moved to Lead the City Manager’s Office where it became the City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy (CAYLA).

APR Afterschool currently hosts eight sites throughout the city with separate programs for elementary school students and teenagers.

APR continues to hire local teens as camp counselors and evening and weekend support staff. Current opportunities can be found on the City of Asheville’s job board.