Chris Thomas, founder and CEO of the nonprofit YourPassion1st, is now leading a young men’s mentorship program for those in grades six through 12 each Wednesday at the Oak Park Public Library. | Courtesy of David T Kindler

Local nonprofit Your Passion1st has partnered with the Oak Park Public Library for a new young men’s mentorship program that focuses on confidence building and workforce readiness. 

“The goal is really just to inspire them to overcome any adversity that they have in their life and empower them to leverage what they’re good at,” said Chris Thomas, founder and CEO of YourPassion1st.

The program is open to young men in sixth through 12th grades. The mentorship group meets every Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the main Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake St. 

Thomas and Roberta Bernice Logwood, YourPassion1st’s program director, facilitate each meeting. 

“I’m already ready to see the development in these young men,” said Logwood. “I’m so excited.”

About 25 kids showed up to the program’s first meeting on Jan. 11, according to Thomas. Over pizza, the participants got to know each other by writing down three things about themselves, which helped them to open up about their interests and talents.

Chris Thomas

“Some of them had no clue even what they liked, or what they were good at,” Thomas shared. “But by the end of the day, everyone there knew what they liked and started to understand some things that they are good at.”

In sessions to come, participants will engage in activities to boost self-esteem, learn conflict resolution, create connections and grow self-awareness. Snacks will always be plentiful. Three field trips have also been scheduled. The kids will have the opportunity to weigh in on where they go.

“I am always a proponent of trying my best to keep it educational, but sometimes kids just need to have fun and I think there’s value there in terms of allowing them to have fun,” said Thomas.

Many people got their first jobs as teenagers. To prepare those in the mentorship program for this, Thomas and Logwood will help build their resumes and conduct mock interviews. They will also learn to market their skills, develop business plans and prioritize what makes them passionate, so that they come away with a better idea of what career they’d like to pursue in the future.

“They say there’s a shortage of talent in the workforce,” said Thomas. “I don’t think there’s a shortage of talent in the workforce; I think that there’s a shortage of mentorship.”

Through mentorship that is both fun and educational, the participants will build life skills that will help them to avoid engaging in detrimental activities and thinking. 

“It’s really important to know who you are as a person internally and the value that you create,” said Thomas.

The program is funded through a $25,000 grant from the Illinois State Library and will serve to satisfy a need identified by Oak Park Public Library staff to engage young men in programming specifically geared toward their development. The team at YourPassion1st, which had been looking for the right opportunity to work with the library, was chosen to lead the program.

“They’re teen magnets. They’re in tune with what teens want,” said Latonia Jackson, the library’s manager of middle and high school services. “We knew if anybody could get butts in seats, it would be them.”

Jackson was unable to attend the program’s first meeting, but she said she is excited to attend subsequent meetings. She, along with Logwood and Thomas, hopes that the program will continue to draw in a large group of excited participants.

The program has received great feedback from its target audience, according to the results of a voluntary assessment the attendees were asked to fill out after the first session. 

It’s not too late to join. Attending the first meeting is not a requisite of the program. Registration is open. Any young man who falls within the designated age range can attend. Nor do participants have to live in Oak Park. All that is required is a desire for self-growth.

“We should grab the opportunities we have before us and not let them get away,” said Logwood. 

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