When Marie first came to the US from Haiti, she was like a fish out of water. The young girl was shy and didn’t know English, but she was determined to get an education and pursue her dreams of becoming an interior decorator.
She got into the mentoring program of Xcel Strategies while studying high school at a charter school. An engineering mentor guided her and later got her an internship at a construction company in West Palm Beach. After many hours of internship, all of her hard work paid off, and the company hired her. Marie was once was a timid young lady with few prospects but is now a 22-year-old lady who works for a company that provides her with nice income, benefits, and a brighter future.
Marie is just one of the many inspiring stories of young people from Xcel.
Xcel Strategies, Inc. is a mentoring network that equips young men and women for the future. It teaches people aged 13-25 life skills, job skills and trade skills. One Community Voice was blessed to sit with two of Xcel’s mentors, Tom Rivera, Director for South Florida; and his wife, Maribel, to talk about the organization.
How Xcel Works
“We have one-on-one mentoring, group trainings in the life skills as well as individual training in the life skills,” said Maribel, who is in Admissions. “We have our own curriculum and our life skills are things like goal setting, time management. We start with looking after goals, thinking of your future. The first chapter basically is getting to know them and kind of put a plan together for them as to what does it look like for the future.”
Xcel has been serving the community of Palm Beach County for five years now. They currently have 35 mentors and 250 mentees. The young people come to them through their partner organizations and schools, referrals, and some parents bring their kids to Xcel to undergo their program. “No young person goes unmentored,” she assured.
In addition to being involved in local schools, Tom explained, “We work with foster care and the homeless, because of our partnerships. We work with the level-up program with United Way which are kids from the Department of Juvenile Justice that are getting out of parole or finishing school.”
What’s great with Xcel is its innovative approach in mentoring young people. They created the Worx Mobile Training Units, a customized classroom on wheels. Through these mobile units, mentees get hands-on experience on different trade skills, including carpentry, plumbing, welding, architectural design and Virtual Design Construction (VDC). While the kids are in school, they’re also learning trade skills for their future careers simultaneously.
“The kids are actually getting hands-on introduction to these trades and then they come back and say, ‘Mr. Tom, I wanna be a plumber,’ or ‘Oh, Mr. Tom, I wanna be an electrician,’ that’s when we start putting these plans together with them while they’re going to school whatever school they’re at whatever age they’re at,” Tom told One Community Voice.
How to be a Mentor
With the number of young people in Xcel’s programs, the nonprofit is in need of mentors to ensure that the one-on-one mentoring is provided. Xcel requires a mentor candidate to be at least in his/her late 20s and with enough experience to impart to the mentees.
It’s unbelievable what God is doing in the lives of these children. How they’re changing right before our eyes. It’s just amazing! —Tom Rivera, Director for South Florida, Xcel Strategies
“We basically look for the heart. There is no ‘you must be doing this for a living or you must be doing that for a living.’ Somebody who has the heart who goes through the level of background check,” said Maribel.
Tom added, “We want to see how much pain they went through in their life. Because if they have been through alot of pain, they’re going to be great mentors because they understand what the kids are going through.”
Kids in Xcel need alot of understanding and compassion and having a mentor that has so much love to give would help them cope with whatever troubles they’re facing in life.
“Give them hope,” urged Maribel. “A lot of these kids don’t allow themselves to dream, and it’s because they haven’t been allowed that opportunity. They don’t see a life at the end of the road.”
Tom exclaimed, “It’s unbelievable what God is doing in the lives of these children. How they’re changing right before our eyes. It’s just amazing!”
Kids in Xcel
What Xcel does is teach the kids the life skills and give them the tools to help them in their future. They’re learning about relevant skills while they’re still in school. If a kid wants to be in the program, they’re in. No questions asked about grades, economic background, or religion.
These services are for free with the help of several partners and sponsors. The mentors instill in their mentees to value all the learnings, the tools and opportunities given to them. They require committment from their mentees.
“We need committment. That’s the part. We need to know you’re going to get through with this, that you’re going to do the work. You’re going to move to the next step,” reminded Maribel.
Xcel raises money through grants, private funding, and donations so it can provide their programs without charging the kids or the parents or guardians. But, they expect their mentees to volunteer and help out in the various Xcel activites for the community. It’s teaching the kids the principle of paying it forward.
When it comes to the future of the mentees, Maribel said the kids have the choice to continue with their careers in trade or study for college. That decision is up to the kids and Xcel will guide them all the way to reach their goals. However, she wanted the young people to see the trades in a different light.
“I just feel strongly that we need to change the whole way we look at the trades. A lot of the young kids when you talk about the trades they think about work, it’s a job. It’s something you do when you can’t do anything else and it’s not so.” She pointed out, “It’s not just about lifting a hammer, it’s a career.”
What happens after the program
Tom shared that their mentees continue to keep in touch with Xcel even after finishing with the program. Most of the time, they open up conversations about employment, salary, or a job interview.
“As long as they want to be mentored, we’re here,” revealed Maribel.
Speaking as a former pastor, Tom said, “We’re being a church out there. Serving our community, serving our children, the broken, the lost.”
His wife concluded, “I want people to see the heart. We do this because we want to give back to these young people, and we want at times, to be the church out there. No one else is going to reach them.”