They’re guiding a new generation

Published 9:14 am Saturday, November 21, 2009

FRANKLIN—Dr. Princella Johnson knows what it’s like to grow up with minimal parental involvement.

“I was always waiting for someone to come and help me, and nobody ever came,” she said. “So I understand the feeling of some of the children.”

Despite the lack of support, Johnson said she was a successful student who didn’t get into trouble; however, she knows that children who lack parental involvement are much more likely to fall victim to gangs, drug and alcohol abuse and risky sexual behaviors.

To help combat the negative forces that attract young people, Johnson and her husband, Maurice, formed Millennial Mentoring Youth Academy, LLC, or Y2K Academy.

Y2K Academy, which is certified by or is a member of several national mentoring groups, has been operating out of the Franklin Business Incubator for seven months. The goal was to have 15 mentors by the end of this year, and Johnson said that they are almost there.

“We are not a recreational mentoring program,” she said. “We are an academic support and work force development mentoring program. We work with our youth to empower them.”

Johnson said mentoring tends to carry certain negative connotations, such as the children are in the juvenile justice system or having difficulties at home. However, that’s not always the case.

“We tend to believe that there are a lot of our children that are just falling through the cracks and we don’t want to miss them,” she said. “We want to get those underachievers and average young people who may not have the parental involvement that some of the other children have.”

The Johnsons use statistics to get their point across about how badly mentors are needed here. They’re concerned about Standards of Learning test scores in local schools and high teenage pregnancy and dropout rates in Franklin and Suffolk. They’re also concerned about the high rates of homicide among young black men and the high rates of HIV/AIDS infection among young black women.

“There’s a lot of negativity about young people, and we want some positive things out there,” she said.

Y2K Academy uses a three-pronged approach, involving character and healthy relationship education, social and vocational mentoring and counter-cultural activities interventions. They even received a personalized letter and video of support from Gov. Timothy Kaine.

Y2K Academy is currently seeking mentors, both male and female from all backgrounds, to work with young people in Western Tidewater.

“Our major focus is to continue to recruit,” Johnson said. “We want to have the ability to match them with someone who closely matches with their circumstances.”

While they are looking for both male and female mentors, male mentors are especially desired.

Numerous studies show that mentoring can reduce risky behaviors like violence and drug and alcohol use. Studies also show that mentoring can improve self-esteem, increase grades and behavior, enhance social skills and emotional well-being and can even facilitate better family relationships.

“Mentoring can actually be very, very effective or very, very bad if you do it the wrong way, and that’s one of the reasons we have our orientation.”

Y2K Academy holds several orientations for new mentors. The next one will be held Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Franklin Business Incubator. Prospective mentors are asked to register in advance. However, the Johnsons said that they are available to give orientations across the area, if necessary.

“There is no obligation, because we’re looking for quality mentors,” Johnson said. “It’s serious, because a lot of the children who we’re serving have already been let down by so many people in society, and we really don’t want to be the next person to let them down.”

New mentors are subject to a stringent screening process, including random drug testing and an FBI background check. New mentors must commit to spend at least one hour a week with their mentee for one year.

Y2K Academy also offers several family-enrichment programs, including a fatherhood program called Y2K Dadz.

Maurice Johnson oversees the Y2K Dadz program.

“It’s about being a better father,” he said. “It’s not about beating up the men because they haven’t been there, and it’s sad to say, but many times that’s the case.”

He said he tries to instill “a solid work ethic” in the young men in the program, just like his father did for him when he was growing up.

He said it’s important that young men understand how serious fatherhood is.

“The focus needs to be getting yourself together before you even think about putting a child on this earth that you can’t even provide for,” he said.

Y2K Academy is also looking to expand and offer after-school tutoring help after the Christmas holiday.

For Christmas, Johnson said she would like to raise $1,000 to jump-start the electronic mentoring program, which would allow mentors to reach young people from anywhere across the country.

“You hear a lot of people talking about our young people,” Maurice Johnson said. “Now you have an opportunity to do something.”

For more information about Y2K Academy or to donate, visit