The Ezekiel Taylor Scholarship Foundation Strengthens Their Program Structure with the Support of MENTOR Illinois
Written By: Abigail Lormer, MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership
The Ezekiel Taylor Scholarship Foundation is a Chicago based 501(c)3 scholarship program that began in 2016. The Foundation is named in honor of the father of Tenisha Taylor Bell, the founder and CEO of the Foundation. Ezekiel Taylor was killed at the age of 34 by a group of young men. Tenisha decided to take that tragedy, and turn it into triumph by providing mentorship and other programming to young African American men who have been impacted by gun violence. “Young African American men are an underserved group Chicago, and this foundation is an effort to give something back to the community by providing them with more support and guidance,” said Tenisha. Scholarships are often focused on the highest achieving students in a class, requiring high GPA’s or certain grades to qualify. The Ezekiel Taylor Scholarship Foundation approaches things a little differently. This scholarship is focused on young people who do not normally have those opportunities, and is inclusive of the C average student with a minimum GPA requirement of 2.5. The goal of this approach is to empower young men who are coming from all different places in search of success.
This is where the mentorship comes in. Those who are selected for the scholarship are then matched with a mentor that stays with them for a 2 year commitment, and hopefully beyond, with the goal of being paired throughout the young men’s college experience. The mentors serve as a life coach, not only providing guidance as it relates to school but how to be successful outside of the classroom as well. “Life conversations, job situation, dating, money, bills... the mentor provides an extra ear to talk through all of this,” is how Tenisha described this relationship. The Foundation also does a number of events to support the young men’s professional and personal growth. For example, last year they had an event called Dress for Success where local men’s clothing stores donated tailored suits to the young men. They also held a financial literacy program event for both the mentors and mentees. By collaborating with their partners, ISS Bank and the WNBA team the Chicago Sky, the Ezekiel Taylor Scholarship Foundation brought all the mentors and mentees together for the financial literacy program, then closed the day by going to a basketball game all together.
Tenisha refers to her National Mentoring Resource Center (NMRC) Technical Assistance (TA) Provider Tiffany McQueen of Mentor Illinois as her advisor, and describes her as extremely resourceful and available. During their time together, Tenisha and Tiffany focused on strengthening their board model. This revolved around creating more of a structure around the role and expectations for board members, including factors like visibility in the community, fundraising, and opening doors to mentors and potential funders. “Tiffany helped guide our program through questions like, 'How do we encourage and challenge board members to be effective? Do we have the right people, a good mix? What is our strategy and plan to get through next year?'” recalls Tenisha. Together they also built out a system for onboarding and training new members and created a matrix for recruiting future members. The knowledge that the TA Provider was able to provide around board structure was extremely valuable to a program that was just getting started.
Tiffany also supported a reorganization of the mentor program, focusing on how to maintain accountability. “People get busy and have lives. How are we continuing to support that and keep the relationship strong and growing?” said Tenisha. Since the program was so young, they did not have any guidelines around the goals and desired outcomes of the mentoring relationships. They spent a lot of a time creating a mentor role description, and then on how to market that description and recruit mentors.
When asked why she would recommend TA to other mentoring programs, Tenisha said, “You can get the attention you deserve and the resources that you need. Everyone needs some type of mentor or advisor, when you are trying to grow your nonprofit it’s important to have someone with that knowledge. Know what you know, and know what you don’t know. And Tiffany had the right resources in place to fill that gap.” Tiffany was able to help identify where the holes were using her expertise in the mentoring field. “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel or feel isolated in the journey to enhance or build a program. There is a lot of support out there from people with experience,” said Tiffany who has worked at multiple mentoring programs. Tiffany would recommend that programs request TA because, “It’s great to see the relief when the program goes, ‘Ah. I have a partner in this now.’”
MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership (MENTOR) partners with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to deliver the National Mentoring Resource Center (NMRC) to the mentoring field. In addition to convening a Research Board which develops evidence-based reviews about mentoring topics, and offering a comprehensive mentoring resource center website, the NMRC provides mentoring programs nationwide with the opportunity to request and receive no-cost technical assistance to help them more deeply incorporate evidence-based practices into their programming. Once a mentoring program requests technical assistance, their request is assigned to a local or regional technical assistance provider within MENTOR's network of affiliate Mentoring Partnerships and TA providers. New and emerging mentoring programs may benefit from technical assistance to help them design and implement programs that meet quality standards as outlined in the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring™, while existing or established programs may utilize TA to improve operations, assess impact, or adapt their program to changing or emerging community needs.