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Hope for Tomorrow still going strong

Nickie Carrigan leads a group of eighth graders at Rosemount Middle School in a yoga exercise. Carrigan is a mentor for Hope for Tomorrow, a mentorship program that connects middle school students with positive role models in the community. (Photo submitted)

Once a month, twenty Rosemount Middle School students get to slip out of class for two hours and talk about their future with people who have been there before. Though two hours a month may not seem like much, the mentorship program they are a part of has been so successful, it has grown from five to twenty participants in only three years.

Hope for Tomorrow is a Minnesota-based nonprofit that partners with school districts to help foster positive mentoring relationships between middle schoolers and adults in the community.

The mentors at Rosemount Middle School are volunteers who have a connection to Rosemount and want to use their own life experiences to help kids reach their full potential.

Though the program was launched in Bloomington in 1997, it is only in its third year in Rosemount. Two years ago, the middle school tested the waters with a group of eighth grade boys. The program was so successful, RMS added a separate girls' chapter the following year.

Peggy Johnson, community relations director for the Dakota Electric Association, said participants seem to enjoy having special time set aside each month to focus on bettering themselves.

"I think they like the focus on 'me' in a good way," she said. "'My goals, my challenges,' and learning different strategies to address them to be successful."

Johnson said the students also enjoy having a mentor to bounce their ideas off of.

"It's energizing," she said.

RMS assistant principal Eric Hansen said administrators, teachers and counselors look for students who are motivated and whose attendance is proficient, noting that kids must be responsible enough to make up the class work they miss during meetings.

Johnson said participants are students who have strong potential for personal growth but could benefit from additional support and guidance. She asks school staff to recommend kids that would embrace such an opportunity.

"These are kids with potential. They are kids who are ready to blossom. They just need a push in the right direction," Johnson said. "We just want to help them become the best person they can be."

Each session includes a group presentation, small and large group activities, and one-on-one time with mentors. Topics cover everything from making healthy choices and thinking positively to setting goals and creating good first impressions. In April and May, students get to tour both a college campus and a corporate setting to get them thinking about life after high school.

Mentors focus on developing life skills and empowering students to make positive choices. Johnson said that although each student faces different challenges, they will all have to deal with the transition to high school and the choices it brings.

"You are gaining so much freedom as a high schooler, and it comes with so much responsibility," she said.

Nickie Carrigan, who owns Nickie Carrigan Fitness: The Warehouse in Rosemount and recently led a Hope for Tomorrow session on making healthy choices, said the program's mentors should be proud of the impact they have had on children.

"It takes a village to create a strong community, and it starts with how we take care of and lead our kids," Carrigan said.

Hansen said many of RMS's Hope for Tomorrow participants speak so highly of the program that their friends ask how they can get in.

"Anytime we can have good, healthy people around our kids and helping lead discussions for their future, we certainly honor that," Hansen said. "I'm so glad we took this on and we are able to connect adults with our kids, because we really value those relationships."

Johnson said the program fits well with Dakota Electric Association's cooperative principle to support and work for the betterment of the community.

"We recognize that helping kids be successful in the schools is one of the best ways we can increase our capacity in the community," she said.