YouthBuild Mentoring Pair Featured on MENTOR Website

Abrigal Forrester, Director of Criminal Justices Initiatives at YouthBuild USA, and James Mackey, a graduate of YouthBuild Columbus, began a mentoring relationship over a year and a half ago when they met as colleagues at YouthBuild headquarters in Somerville, MA. Their mentoring story is now featured by MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership on the mentoring.org website. With MENTOR's permission, we are reprinting their story here:

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Abrigal and James

Abrigal Forrester was 21 and just starting a long prison sentence when he found himself desperate for positive role models. He needed someone to look up to. He needed someone he could relate to and talk to.

More importantly, he needed someone who would challenge him to begin the long process of rebuilding his life from behind the walls of a prison.

Abrigal says he didn’t have to look far to find good mentors.

“It was the older guys (in prison) who got me thinking about who I am and where I was at in my life at the time. Some of them became father figures to me, almost like a parenting situation. They challenged me,” Abrigal, 43, recalls about the most important mentors while serving a 10-year mandatory sentence at Massachusetts State Prison.

Since completing his sentence, Abrigal has worked with numerous organizations that support court-involved youth, low- income populations, and chronically unemployed individuals, including Boston Foundation’s Street Safe Boston initiative, Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts (ULEM), and the Suffolk County House of Corrections. Today, Abrigal directs the criminal justice initiatives at YouthBuild USA’s national headquarters in Boston. More than 260 YouthBuild programs across the country work with low-income young people to get their high school diplomas or GEDs, and learn construction skills while building affordable housing in their own communities. Tremendous emphasis is placed on leadership development, community service, and the creation of a positive mini-community of adults and youth committed to each other’s success.

It was at YouthBuild USA where Abrigal was first introduced to James Mackey, a former gang member and high school dropout from Columbus, Ohio.

“I saw a lot of myself in James,” says Abrigal, explaining what motivated him to volunteer to become a mentor to James. “Just like me, James had it rough early on. His father, like my father, was not around. He got mixed up with the wrong crowd. He made bad decisions.

“James was a young man I saw that needed help,” Abrigal says. “I figured I could be that help.”

James, who moved from Ohio to Massachusetts to become a program assistant with Youth Build USA’s National Mentoring Alliance, says Abrigal is the closest thing he’s ever had to a father figure. Both his father and mother had been gang affiliated before him.

“My father was incarcerated before I was born, so he was never around for me. My younger brother also became incarcerated, and when my other younger brother died in gang violence, my mother was so upset she wanted to end her life,” says James, 27.

“I didn’t have a high school degree and I really had no positive role models in my life at that point. And then a friend told me about YouthBuild and I enrolled in the Columbus program and then things started to happen for me. I got invited to speak on behalf of the program in Washington, DC. Shortly after that the opportunity opened up for me in Boston.

“It was here in Boston that Abrigal introduced himself to me at YouthBuild,” James continues. “He took me under his wing. He met with me and listened to me. He helped me make the transition. He was someone I could look up to.”

For the last year and half, Abrigal and James have met once a month, usually for a meal to just go over things. The mentor and mentee say their relationship is a two-way street. They both have helped each other deal with life’s challenges. They even became roommates for seven months, when Abrigal took James in to his home for seven months when James had no where to else to live.

This natural mentoring relationship has helped make it possible for James to continue moving forward on a new path he chose for himself when he entered the YouthBuild program in Columbus so many years ago. We see evidence that mentoring works as the cycle of mentoring breaks the cycle of gang violence and the mentee becomes the mentor.

Today, James has his own apartment in Boston and is enrolled in school and pursuing an associates degree. Abrigal has a new nickname for his mentee. ”He calls me the Young General,” says James, “because it’s his way of letting me know that I’m in charge now.”