As the saying goes, it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish, because one way feeds him for a day while the other feeds him forever.
Of course, it goes without saying that this truism applies to women as well. The sooner boys and girls are given the basics of social skills, life skills and how to get a good job and create career, the better in life they will do.
That is where Escondido’s Go2Grow program comes in. The Go2Grow Mentorship Program & Training Center’s slogan is “Discover your path for success.” It’s a free program that offers mentors and support to help young people discover what their passion is.
The Go2Grow program moved to its current location about a year ago from Kalmia between Grand and Valley Parkway Elana Karoly started the Go2Grow foundation and non-profit in 2012. Its purpose is to provide mentoring and career development to young people ages 12-25.
I visited Karoly at the Go2Grow storefront at 326 South Kalmia, a couple of blocks down from Grand Avenue.
Most of the funding for Go2Grow comes from its main fundraiser of the year, the Masquerade Ball and from supporters who pledge $10 a month to help it stay open. “There’s never a LOT of money but we’ve kept the doors open,” Karoly observed as she showed me around the modest-sized “clubhouse.” It’s a comfortable-looking space that doesn’t look too official, but invites you to sit down and make yourself comfortable.
The organization is run entirely by volunteers, including Karoly. Her day job is as a home loan officer with Integrity First Mortgage. Fortunately, she works out of the same office as the Go2Grow office.
“My parents, who own Integrity, are my landlords. It’s nice to have a landlord who believes in what you are doing.” That doesn’t mean that she gets a “special” rate for rent, but it is affordable enough to keep the bills paid.
What makes Go2Grow different from, say, the Boys & Girls Club is that its mission is not to provide a place for kids to recreate, study and have fun after school so much as a place where they can discover their path to success.
Go2Grow provides free services for about 25 kids at any one time.
“We are not competing with Boys & Girls Club,” says Karoly. “We are not babysitting. We pick up where Boys & Girls clubs leave off.”
One difference is that the G02Grow facility is open by appointment. “Kids are matched with mentors. That is the way that we have done it from Day One,” says Karoly. Karoly was the first mentor—but she soon added other.
It was hard at first developing the program. “I had a vision of clients starting in middle school and staying through high school,” she recalls. That didn’t happen. Karoly came to realize that success would have to be measured on a smaller scale. “The kids get what they need and then move on.”
Elana Karoly was born and raised in Escondido. She joined AmeriCorps when she was just out of college and then returned to college to study to be a teacher. “Everyone said that I would make a good one,” she recalls. She wanted to teach, all right, but not in a school environment. “My heart for kids is not going to be in the classroom.” For her, the best way to help mentor kids is through Go2Grow. “I’m very entrepreneurial and market focused,” and that approach colors how she approaches mentoring.
On her website she writes: “I truly believe today’s students need more than just a textbook education to become independent and successful in the real world. After graduating college, I spent 12 months working/volunteering with AmeriCorps, teaching disadvantaged middle school students to discover their passions and build lifelong goals they truly wanted to achieve.
“I quickly realized it wasn’t just this community of students who lacked additional mentorship – it was most students! They needed help beyond the basic school subjects to learn more about themselves, explore the opportunities available to them, and be inspired to pursue their dreams.”
Not all young people want to go to college, although a majority of them want to attend some sort of secondary education and start a career.
“We go beyond the classroom, to help students discover their passions, learn how it relates to today’s job opportunities, and build paths to succeed in all aspects of life,” says Karoly.
On a typical day a mentor will come by for a one on one conference with the client.
What is a good mentor? “You become a good mentor living life, just sharing experiences that you have and problems that you have overcome,” she says.
The three main pillars of focus at Go2Grow are:
• Social skills
• Life skills
• Career counseling
“When I meet someone who wants to be a mentor I figure out which of the three pillars they are most experienced at,” she says. She interviews them to determine what age group and gender they would be most comfortable with and what they want to help with. Then parents bring by their children. Parents are involved in the program from the beginning and throughout.
For most children the improvement of social skills may be most critical. “The biggest thing kids don’t know they need help with is social skills,” says Karoly.
Karoly describes herself as a “huge” networker. She recruits her mentors from her network. “I seek them out based on their matching older and wiser with younger and inexperienced.
“Where the real magic is happening is providing consistent material resources to the mentor,” she says. For example, a student wants to take a career assessment and Karoly obtains the software for the test. Or if a student wants to meet an engineer, Karoly provides an engineer.
“We also read lots of books,” she says. The first and most important book that she recommends is “What Color is Your Parachute” for teens. The adult version of the “Parachute” book has been a touchstone for decades for persons wanting to find the jobs that they can be most passionate and effective at.
The mentor and mentee go through this book together chapter by chapter. “One of the biggest things that has been changed over the last two years is that we have determined that the one size fits all approach does not work,” says Karoly. “Everyone has their own life experiences that they bring to the table. There are a lot of young people who just need someone who can invest in them.”
Karoly points out that there IS competition out there, but that they charge for their services. “Our ‘competition’ charges for what we would do for free. We are not a paid service,” she says.
Recently Go2Grow acquired an invaluable new member, a retired secondary education career counselor.
When it comes to social skills, Go2Grow’s mentors will help identify what is at the root of a youth’s awkwardness. “I think the big thing is to create an environment where they can be comfortable in their own skin. For someone like that I would pick a mentor who has struggled with that.”
Go2Grow offers a rich menu of programs for improving life skills. “We have a ton of workshops during the year,” says Karoly. “We have so many gifted professionals who are willing to help in areas such as nutrition, finance, confidence, self-awareness, interviewing skills, resume building and even baby-sitting.”
Obviously when you are this young, you may not have much to put on a resume, so in this instance the mentors teach what young people should be working on to put on their resumes, and ways to enhance them through volunteering, getting involved in clubs and extracurricular activities that look good to a potential employer—as well as where to find scholarships.
“Career counseling is our core,” she says. “If a student has no clue what they want to do we open their minds to all that they could do. We help them research. We help them meet professionals and research colleges. If they do not feel that college is necessary, we help them find alternatives. College debt is not necessary for every person.”
Elana Karoly has a passion for helping young people to grow. “I’m volunteering to give back to the community and wanting to help people be the best person they can be. That’s something you can’t get a degree for.”
In her capacity of running Go2Grow Karoly is marketing director, foundation director and networking director. Not a life coach herself, she knows where to find them.
Recently Go2Grow began partnering with Tutor Doctor, the leader in one-to-one tutoring to offer the Homework Club for grades 6-12.
Kids who are struggling with math or English classes and who need help in completing assignments or doing well on tests are invited to sign up for the FREE homework club. Homework club happens Mondays and Wednesdays, 3-6 p.m.
Register at www.go2grow.net/homeworkclub
If you are a child and you want to join Go2Grow, ask your parent to bring you along to register and learn about its free services.
For more information: Call 760-563-6833 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.