On Sept. 30, Michael Marion, founder and director of Johnson City’s Rise Up youth mentoring and after-school program, will wrap up his year-long, 3,650-mile Mentoring Man walk to raise awareness of the need and the opportunity for adult mentors to make a difference in the lives of children by walking alongside them for the long term.
While his 365-day, 10-mile-a-day walk has not resulted in the kind of success he had hoped for and the number of volunteer mentors at Rise Up has actually declined slightly since last fall, Marion said the walk has succeeded in “starting a conversation” the program can build on.
“We’re going to wrap it up quietly on Sept. 30 and we’ll have a couple of celebration lunches on the days after to keep that conversation going,” he said. “They’re not fundraising lunches. It’s just that we know everyone has to eat lunch anyway, and these are free lunches we hope people will want to come to and learn more about what this is about.”
The free Mentoring Man lunches will be held Oct. 1 and 2 at the Summit Leadership Foundation building on Hanover Road. Everyone is welcomed and all that is required is a call to the Rise Up at 610-1242 to reserve a place at the table.
“We’re in the conversation- and relationship-(building) business,” Marion said. “Regardless of what resources a kid has, whether they’re rich kids or poor kids, most of them won’t be successful if they don’t have adult models to teach them and show them we don’t give up. We believe every kid ought to have their own set of cheerleaders to help them get up and keep going when they fall. That’s what Rise Up does. That’s what a mentor does. And we’ve been doing it for almost 20 years now.”
Because he was mentored as a child growing up in rural Hawkins County and because his mentor inspired him to graduate high school and to go on to college, Marion said he believes every child who wants a mentor should have one.
“What we’re doing is helping kids get all the way through high school. Days add up to years and we put great value in how long we stay with a child,” he said.
Currently Rise up has about 100 adult mentors working with a near equal number of children and another 20 or so children on its waiting list.
“Most of our mentors are people who have full-time jobs. We have a doctor. We have people who manage factories. We have a stay-at-home mom who has five kids of her own. So it’s not so much an issue of having time as it is having a heart to do it.
“I walked for a year and it was hard. Mentoring is hard. But it can be done for a year and I personally don’t know anyone who has done it for a year who isn’t so glad they did it, because if you do it for a year you know you have had an impact.”
Rise Up will host two Mentoring Man walk celebrations to give people who are interested two chances to be there.
“We want it to be a fun time, a combination walk celebration and Rise Up informational lunch to let people know that we care about kids and we want to go long, that our emphasis is not on how many kids we serve but how well we serve and how deeply we want to impact their lives,” Marion said.
And for the curious, Marion will answer the question, “Why would any 50-year-old man walk 10 miles a day for a year?” The answer is both simple and complex, he said. And it goes back to lessons his own mentor taught him as a child, “that when you follow Jesus you will go places and do things you would never imagine ... God has big dreams for (children) and that their future isn’t determined by their past.”