Youth Villages: By Madeleine Haynes

     January is National Mentoring Month, and I’m excited to share a little about Southern College of Optometry’s involvement in and commitment to the Youth Villages Mentor Program.

     Since I first connected with SCO almost two and a half years ago, our mentor program has worked with 27 SCO mentors (including students, faculty, and staff) who have provided over 580 hours of mentoring time to 31 children. It’s incredible to think of how many children have been impacted. Apart from our own Youth Villages employees acting as mentors, this is the highest number of mentors from one single organization that we’ve seen. Our program asks that volunteers spend 4-6 hours per month with their mentee, but how the time is divided can be flexible. Since their schedules can be pretty hectic, SCO mentors appreciate this because they’re able to find time that fits their availability.

     Mentors do a variety of activities with their mentees such as creating vision boards with the kids to help them visualize what they want for their futures, writing and coloring Christmas cards for patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, exploring Memphis and just listening when a child needs someone to talk to.

      I’ve loved seeing how committed our SCO mentors are and how well our youth respond to them. Recently, one of our girls shared with me about a new SCO mentor saying, “She has made a difference in my life because she’s encouraged me to do well and be the best I can be. My favorite thing about her is that we can talk about everything. She’s been the best and I really like her a lot. She’s been the perfect mentor to me and I cannot imagine having anyone else as my mentor.”

     SCO mentors have also shared how they’ve benefitted from their participation in the program. One SCO student shared, “One thing I really enjoy about mentoring that makes it all worth it is when we’re having a good time on an off-campus pass, and at the end of the day when I drop her off, she just stops and looks at me, and says, ‘Thank you.’ She is so genuine about it, and she truly appreciates the time we spend together.’”

      So many young people in our program have low levels of social support, and mentors provide them with a positive adult friend who is committed to supporting and encouraging them. Mentors help youth face challenges, set goals, improve their self-worth, and allow our youth to have fun and enjoy just being a kid.

      In addition to their involvement with our mentor program, SCO faculty and staff members sponsored a total of 20 children through our Holiday Heroes program. Each sponsorship was a commitment to shop for presents for a child receiving Youth Villages’ services. Through this commitment, 20 children in our residential campuses were able to experience the joy of opening their own holiday gifts. Some SCO employees even came to the facility to watch kids open their gifts.

     Southern College of Optometry has been an incredible partner for Youth Villages, especially our Mentor Program. We greatly appreciate all the support we’ve received and look forward to the continued partnership.

     As we always have children on our waiting list, we’re constantly looking for more mentors. If you’re interested in getting involved with our Mentor Program, click this link to complete our online application, or feel free to reach out to me with any questions you might have.

Application link:

Contact Information:

Madeleine Haynes (mentor liaison)


Madeleine Haynes is the Mentor Liaison at Youth Villages. She works to recruit, connect, and support mentors working with youth throughout all Youth Villages programs in West Tennessee.

She moved to Memphis in 2016 and has been working with Youth Villages since. Madelyn loves exploring new restaurants around Memphis and finding hidden gems in the city. In her free time, she enjoys doing hot yoga and putting together jigsaw puzzles.