The clubs are designed to serve up to 18 boys under two community mentors at each participating school site.

MIAMI — Ottawa County middle schools will soon be implementing a mentoring program with a full supportive curriculum aimed at young men called "Men in the Making" through the Northeast Oklahoma Regional Alliance (NORA).

Men in the Making will serve Ottawa County middle school boys with the mission to encourage youth to make positive choices, build self-esteem, identify values, and build core skills according to the program outline.

The program was introduced at the monthly Partners for Ottawa County, Inc. (POCI) meeting Thursday, Sept. 14 where members of the coalition voted to approve funding for the proposal from the POCI Youth Development Action Group.

"In a nutshell, Men in the Making is a mentorship opportunity for middle school aged boys in our community to partner with community members throughout Ottawa County," said POCI Youth Development Chair and Ottawa County Boys and Girls Club Director, Mackenzie Garst. "It offers life lessons and the opportunity to shadow and mentor and do many of those great things that boys in our community need."

In total, funding for six Men in the Making clubs were approved for Ottawa County middle schools by POCI at the cost of $2,000 each. The clubs are designed to serve up to 18 boys under two community mentors at each participating school site. Club kits include a customizable curriculum and manuals, club items such as t-shirts and backpacks, and quarterly impact studies.

When asked by a coalition member how Men in the Making differs from existing support initiatives for boys in Ottawa County such as Man Up, Garst explained that the clubs were designed to foster long-term relationships with community mentors versus informational one-day guidance sessions.

"Man Up is more of a one-day activity where they bring in speakers and speak to boys about becoming men and things like that. Whereas this Men in the Making program is more of a long-term sustainable program within our community that boys are building long-term relationships with men in our community," said Garst. "These could be bakers, these could doctors, these could be you and I, they could be anyone in between. It really focuses on building those relationships that kids can carry through their middle school and high school years when things begin to really get tough.

"When you have two paths in life and you know which one you should take, but the other one looks appealing too, that's where this program steps in and says 'You have someone who cares about you and has taught you all these great things and you should make this good choice instead.'"

Garst added that what intrigued her most about the program offering was that it was a sustainable initiative that would not require the additional resources of time or development from the POCI Youth Development Action Group to implement.

It was also explained that while the clubs are set up to serve 18 boys at each school site, there was room for expansion.

Men in the Making with funding through POCI is set to be implemented this academic year in Miami, Commerce, Fairland, Quapaw, Afton, and Wyandotte middle schools

POCI

POCI is a 501(c)(3) non-profit coalition comprised of agency, business, and community members that states as its mission "To improve quality of life, foster hope, and create opportunity for Ottawa County."

During regular monthly sessions, action groups report on recent activities before dividing into sub-groups to discuss ongoing projects and coordinate new initiatives for their area of focus. Currently, there are two actions groups within POCI - Poverty, chaired by Sarah Johnson and Youth Development, chaired by Garst.

The current POCI Board is comprised of Jordan Barlow, President; Maria Olson, Vice President; Dan Weiser, Secretary; James Pliant, Treasurer; Lee Hilliard, Board Member and Tyler Hubbard, Board Member/Marketing.

The coalition meets at noon the second Thursday of every month in the Community Room of the Courthouse Annex at 123 E Central Ave. in Miami. The next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 12, 2017.

For more information, visit the POCI Facebook page at https://m.facebook.com/okPOCI/ or email okpoci@gmail.com.

Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor for the Miami News-Record. Email her at dballard@miaminewsrecord.com and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.