By Devin Blake
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
Although he has a mother and father who are present and engaged in his life, Cameron Grosz, 16, said that about a year ago, he started to make unwise choices.
He was spending time with other youths who were staying out at night and stealing cars.
“I guess I was trying to be like them, kind of,” Grosz said.
Worried, Grosz’s mom found out about the MIRROR program, where each youth is connected to three mentors: an officer from the Milwaukee Police Department; someone convicted of a violent offense; and a crime survivor.
“We tried to … surround them each with three mentors, symbolically their past, present and future,” said Adam Procell, cofounder of Paradigm Shyft, the organization that created and oversees the program.
“I received a life sentence two days after I turned 15 for a gang-related homicide and served almost a quarter of a century,” he said. “So I was one of these ‘at-risk youth.’”
Procell said he and cofounder Shannon Ross, also formerly incarcerated, wanted to create the program “that would’ve potentially worked for us when we were teenagers.”
“And we know mentorship works,” he added.
Three Milwaukee teenagers are in the first group of participants in the MIRROR program.
Together, the mentors seek to make a positive impact on their mentees, said Milwaukee Police Department Sgt. Amy Rivera, one of the mentors in the program.
But this process takes time.
The mentors and mentees have engaged in activities over the course of several months to develop the trust and camaraderie needed for success.
‘You can always change at any time’
After a couple of meet-and-greets last year, the three teenagers and their mentors traveled to a property owned by former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.
Thompson has been vocal about his regret in the role he played in the increase in incarceration in Wisconsin during his administration.
Thompson hosted MIRROR program participants at his property in Elroy, which includes a vineyard.
The three mentees are from the ages of 13 to 16.
Some activities the group took part in at Thompson’s property included four-wheeling and fishing.
“It was super cool,” said Grosz. “I had a great time.”
After returning to Milwaukee, the mentors continued to spend time with their mentees, helping them articulate and pursue their goals.
Grosz worked at getting a driver’s license. But long term, he said he wants to be an entrepreneur.
“You can always change at any time. Just do what you want to do,” Grosz said.
The original funding for the program ended in October, but Paradigm Shyft received a second round of funding to keep the program going.
Rivera stressed mentorship does not necessarily need to be formal or tied to a program.
“If there are community members, people in the community that see a youth, be their positive mentor,” she said.
“Maybe you are the only one that can maybe change some perspective and just show that there is some hope out there,” Rivera said. “Just be that positive light for them.”
Devin Blake is the criminal justice reporter for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. His position is funded by the Public Welfare Foundation, which plays no role in editorial decisions in the NNS newsroom.