YouthFriends mentor program going through big changes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A tough decision is leading to big changes for an organization that has helped hundreds of thousands of Kansas City area students.

The YouthFriends mentor program matches adults and students in 25 metro school districts, but we now know it's in financial distress.

By the end of May, YouthFriends hopes to give the North Kansas City School District its trademark and intellectual rights to its organization. At the same time, the two dozen other districts would be forced to improvise programs of their own as they could lose the YouthFriends program in their school.

The Independence School District is one of the districts that will lose YouthFriends, but it is already planning a mentoring program of its own. About 1,000 Independence students currently participate in YouthFriends, and the district is working for a seamless transition to keep mentors with mentees.

Paul Newman III is a freshman at Maple Woods Community College and participated in YouthFriends starting in the third grade. Newman said the relationship with his mentor, Neil Neumeyer, was invaluable.

"He used to come in, help me with whatever I need help with. He'd hang out with me, have lunch, maybe do some crosswords," Newman said.

Neumeyer said he also got a lot out of the program. He and Newman are more like friends after all these years, and Neumeyer hopes school districts can carry on the mentoring tradition.

"Just because the YouthFriends organization might be changing, it doesn't mean that school-based mentoring needs to change," Neumeyer said.

The North Kansas City School District's legal team is currently analyzing the prospect of acquiring the YouthFriends trademark. Once the legal team makes its recommendation, the school board would vote on whether it wants to take on the trademark and intellectual property of YouthFriends.

YouthFriends executive director Laura Norris declined to give further detail on the program's financial problems.

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