Moving ahead, reaching back

Mentoring organization celebrates 20 years

For two decades, local leaders have been actively encouraging the next generation to grab hold of their dreams.

Hope for Tomorrow, a local mentoring nonprofit, gives teens who have strong potential but are facing hardships or challenges the benefit of hearing from others who have gone before them.

Monthly during the school year, eighth-grade students meet with volunteer adult mentors for activities aimed at helping the teens expand their minds to the possibilities life offers.

Two-hour sessions include a presentation, activities and individual time with mentors in schools around the metro area that include District 194’s Kenwood Trail Middle School and McGuire Middle School. There are also chapters in middle schools in St. Paul, Eagan, Rosemount, Burnsville and Bloomington.

Karen Peterson, executive board chair of Hope for Tomorrow, said they encourage the students to dream big, set goals and work hard for what they want to achieve.

She said the sessions are rewarding for mentors and participating in them is fun, easy and does not require a lot of time.

Some of her favorite activities include taking the students to tour local colleges and businesses.

“Their eyes are as big as saucers, because they’re looking around thinking, ‘I could go here?’ ” Peterson said. “And they can, because any kid can do whatever they want if they put their mind to it.”

Her first mentee came from a loving home, but her mother was ill and, being raised by her father, she needed a female role model.

The girl’s father recently shared how much the program helped not only Peterson’s mentee, now in college, but the girl’s two sisters who also were selected by school officials to participate in the program.

Peterson, of Eagan, said anyone can achieve their goals; her own life is testament to those who have hard life circumstances that they can overcome.

Peterson said her father was a drug addict who was often in jail.

“I had an awesome mom,” Peterson said. “She really taught me and kind of showed me I had to take care of myself, and to not be dependent on people, but to kind of forge my path.”

She was the first one in her family to pursue education beyond high school.

Peterson went to trade school, worked as clinic manager at Life Wellness Center, and is now in charge of marketing at the center. A former Businesswoman of the Year, Peterson also recently married and is busy raising her four children.

“I had everything going against me,” Peterson said. “I could have had a very failing life, and I ended up, you know, I consider myself to be a pretty successful woman and I created my own life.”

Students involved in the program have also had the opportunity to listen to panels of successful adults sharing their experiences and their career paths.

One panel speaker said she started out playing Snoopy at Mall of America and ended up working in human resources because she loved the organization.

“Hearing their journey is so important for these young people,” Peterson said. “Because they see hope.”

The nonprofit is celebrating its two-decade anniversary with a banquet from 5:30-9 p.m. April 20 at the Mendakota Country Club at 2075 Mendakota Drive in Mendota Heights.

The event will include a speech by one of the organization’s founders, author and public speaker Linda Bauer, who now lives in Texas, and keynote speaker Joe Schmit from KSTP television. Tickets are $40 and are available at hopefortomorrowmentoring.org.

Hope for Tomorrow has eight girls chapters and two boys chapters in the metro area and is seeking to expand locally, but needs additional adult volunteers to participate.

She said the experience has been very rewarding for her and she encourages others to get involved.

One of those she has successfully recruited is one of her daughters, who is passionate about social issues and was excited to take part in Black Lives Matter protests.

“I said to her, ‘If you want to make a change in society, you do it with our kids,’ ” Peterson said. “Most adults will not change opinions about things they think, but you can make an impact on these young people.”

Peterson said mentors encouraging and investing in the lives of the next generation “is a way to change our future.”

She said the students want someone to care about them and need to hear they matter.

“If they have someone who just tells them they’re awesome and cares about them, then maybe they can make it, too,” Peterson said. “That’s just our hope.”