I AM MENtality mentors Baltimore boys and young men, and offers them education and work opportunities. Photo courtesy of I AM MENtality.

Baltimore native Darren Rogers was fulfilling his goal of aiding troubled youth in Baltimore City through his services as a care worker for a psychiatric rehabilitation program, but he wanted to do more.

While scouring the Baltimore area for volunteer mentorship opportunities, Rogers noticed a gap in the market for programs dedicated to mentoring kids in the city’s underserved communities. So, he decided to make one of his own.

In January 2016, Rogers founded I AM MENtality, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that provides mentoring and leadership development services for boys and young men.

“I figured that if I can’t access this, then I know that children have no way of accessing this whole world of leadership development,” Rogers said. “We want to give a young man the understanding of his power to lead.”

I AM MENtality offers a year-round leadership academy that focuses on four main pillars: leadership development, workforce development, financial literacy, and health and wellness.

They meet up every Saturday – either in person or over video – for group mentoring sessions. Mentors lead a lecture on important lessons each week such as having good manners and etiquette or how to improve decision-making.

“Some people think it’s a waste of time to teach people who may not want to be taught or they may think the boys are unteachable,” said Hassan Barnes, a mentor for I AM MENtality. “I think it’s the absolute opposite. They’re like sponges. They need to be poured into.”

I AM MENtality gets children involved with internships and work programs. Rogers looks to introduce them to new environments so that they can expand their outlook for their future. Two participants are completing internships for BGE this summer.

“A lot of young men in Baltimore City are grade levels behind,” Rogers said, and may think that college is out of reach, but they can still address and overcome the challenges of academics and finances.

“They’re more interested in music, art, and things of that nature,” he said, so his goal is to “create the experience of different environments” and prepare young leaders for college, careers and other objectives.

The nonprofit works with local communities to organize beautification projects and cleanups around the city for the children to participate in. Not only does the work benefit the neighborhoods, but it also helps the kids value the community they’re growing up in more, Rogers said.

“Giving young people a chance is really important,” he said. “Young people who work in communities usually don’t turn into the individuals that destroy communities.”

The program includes a financial literacy course, educating children about the fundamentals of money and how to build lasting wealth. Rogers said this is especially crucial because a majority of participants live in impoverished communities and come from single-parent households.

“One of the gifts that you can give a child who’s experiencing poverty is extensive education about how to overcome it,” Rogers said. “None of your financial situation is going to change until you learn the skills.”

I AM MENtality also provides a health and wellness program that includes physical activities like biking, swimming, jogging, yoga, and fitness boot camps.

The organization brings in local clinicians to teach anger management, conflict resolution, and stress management courses, as well as to serve as counselors for the children.

“Most people are afraid to go to the therapist,” Rogers said, citing the stigma of mental health issues in the Black community and discomfort about reaching out to providers. “We make it so [youth and family members] can see your therapist in the community. Your therapist is actually your friend,” he said, and become valued service providers.

I AM MENtality held a cookout-style fundraiser at Eager Park in East Baltimore on Saturday to raise money for the members’ school supplies. Among the 160 attendees were the organization’s partners, board members, children, and local community members.

“A lot of the boys that are living in Baltimore City, they’re surviving, not really living,” Barnes said. “They would love the things that we have if they had the opportunity to, so let’s show them how to get there. Let’s show them what’s on the other side of working hard and being great.”