The Power of Mentorship with Christy McClendon

Listen to this Podcast Episode

Named one of the top 25 CEOs in Phoenix, Christy McClendon’s passion comes from her own personal experience.  McClendon, who runs the Phoenix based non-profit New Pathways for Youth, was raised in Kentucky by grandparents who had only 8th grade educations.  She joins Carey in studio along with 22 year old Mentor, Eugenia Folks, whose family immigrated from Mexico and struggled daily to survive.  Together they talk about overcoming great odds, and what it is like to find not only success, but true meaning in life.

Show’s Transcript

Carey Pena: Hey guys, it’s Carey Pena. Thank you so much for being here. Let me ask you a question. What if you had the power, the power to change someone’s life? Would you use it? That’s what we’re talking about today with Christy McLendon, president and CEO of New Pathways for Youth. This is a local organization that really transforms lives through mentoring and life skill development, and the success rate is pretty massive, and when I say that you guys are transforming, that is not an overstatement and all that. Also in our studio today is Eugenia folks who is a mentor who says that this has changed her life. Welcome to the both of you.  So good to see you guys. You look lovely. And Christy, I want to talk to you first. You have been named one of the Top 25 CEOs by the Phoenix Business Journal, 50 Most Powerful Women Business Leaders by Arizona Business Magazine and 20 Women Who Will Shape the Valley by the Arizona Republic. So you’re kind of like a big deal.  How did you find your passion to do this?

Christy M.: My passion really comes about from my own personal experience. I grew up in a very small community in southern Kentucky. I was raised by my grandparents who had eighth grade educations and they believed in the power of education and they had no idea how I would go to college, but they just knew it was part of their vision and their hope for me and it was having powerful mentors in my life who helped guide me and show the route and counsel me through that process to make my way there.

Carey Pena: Did you know, did you have an internal sense that you were going to make it to go on to college and these greater degrees that you’ve had and this amazing business world success? Did you feel that or was it your grandparents who were saying, “Yes, you can do it,” or was it a kind of a combination of both?

Christy M: In hindsight, probably a combination of both. I don’t think that I ever said, I’m going to be acknowledged in these wonderful ways that I have in our community. It was just the value my grandparents instilled in me to make a difference, to care about people and to give back.

Carey Pena: Talk to me about New Pathways for Youth because I had the great pleasure of visiting with you guys some months ago and what you’re doing there is really, really special.

Christy M.: New Pathways for Youth truly changes lives. We focus on an intentional evidence based curriculum that inspires our mentors and our youth to reach very … a high level of impact in our lives. We not only see the lives of our youth transform who come to us with backgrounds in delinquency, homelessness or very difficult home lives, but we watch the mentors who serve them as volunteers truly transform their own lives in the process.

Carey Pena: Well, what I found really fascinating is that you guys bring the kids in and even though they have come from very rough circumstances, you expect a lot. You’re not just letting them come in here and kind of dictate their own course. Because what I took away, and correct me if I’m wrong, is you don’t want them to look at themselves as victims.

Christy M.: Absolutely. One of our core beliefs at New Pathways for Youth is that youth do as we do and that youth choose a future for themselves based on what they see as possible in that moment. So we look to our volunteer mentors who go through intensive training to work with these youth from very difficult backgrounds, to inspire them to play big, to set big goals and reach for them. And we look for our mentors to be that example.

Carey Pena: Mentors like this beautiful young lady right here. Eugenia, why did you want to become a mentor?

Eugenia: I had a mentor when I was growing up and that was my father. I had a very strong relationship with him and he instilled the belief in me that education is powerful. And so when I heard about New Pathways, I knew that I had to give it a shot. I could be a mentor.

Carey Pena: Tell me a little bit about your background.

Eugenia: I was raised in the west side, so the Maryville area, in poverty. My parents immigrated here from Mexico and so really, I went to college, really on nothing but scholarships. I felt very fortunate for that, especially because a lot of the peers that I had in my neighborhoods are not in the same situation that I’m in right now.

Carey Pena: And so when you take on your child, you have two of them, right, that you’re mentoring?

Eugenia: Yes, I do.

Carey Pena: How do you go about breaking down their walls? Because a lot of kids I would imagine have been through so much, so much emotional stress and sometimes when you’re in that situation you don’t see the world as being a positive place. You don’t look at it like, “Wow, I can go out there and shoot for the stars.” Where do you begin in trying to break through with these kids?

Eugenia: So that’s interesting that you asked that. It’s at a perfect time because just yesterday I met with one of my mentees who I’ve been matched with for about eight, nine months and he is so intelligent and I would say a little bit stubborn because it was hard to break through those walls.

So yesterday we had that same conversation, much of the same family dynamics that were going on in January. But this time around, it was a little bit different and all it took was a little bit of patience from me and an ear to give to him. So he demonstrated empathy, something that he didn’t have eight months ago and it was a very proud moment.

Carey Pena: Wow, to be able to break through and show empathy really changes who you are as a person. If you can be empathetic toward others, it opens you up to so many beautiful things in life. Can you guys talk to me a little bit about some of the situations that you see? I went to one of your events and there was a young man who just blew me away. I think he was about 16 years old and he told his life story. His parents were just riddled with drugs, alcohol, abuse. He’d been flopped from home to home to home. Didn’t feel that anyone would really love and care for him. And then it was very funny because he’s a young Hispanic gentleman, so cute, and then he got matched up with this like mid-forties kind of white guy. And he talked about, it’s so funny about how he never thought he would have something in common with this kind of, in his words, like nerdy guy, but they ended up with this amazing bond.

Christy M.: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s a very powerful relationship and I think even in that example, and as Eugenie as an example, and I also mentor in our program as a volunteer, it’s really a very core curriculum that equips us as mentors with an understanding of youth development and the very unique situations that our youth find themselves in, again, violence, drugs as you just highlighted for the young man you met.

The young man that my husband and I co-mentor together, same situation. He lost his father at the age of nine and prior to that, he had witnessed a very violent relationship between his parents. And they had, after his father’s passing, he and his siblings and his mother lived in the park for a few weeks before they found themselves in a homeless shelter and able to start rebuilding as a family. These youth face very difficult circumstances. In the training we get as mentors, helps us build that rapport quickly and then the evidence based programming that that New Pathways provides to us as mentors develops our skills to teach empathy at an age appropriate level. So not only is the relationship becoming the mechanism of change, but the curriculum provides all the tools we need to follow to help develop that over time.

Carey Pena: You know, I am a huge believer in what mentorship can do. Many years ago I did a story in one of the jails here, and I was in the room with a bunch of young men who were incarcerated. I’ll never forget this, because one of them, they were all trying to be tough and kind of telling me their stories and you know, a variety of reasons you find people in jail. Some made stupid decisions, some horrendous decisions.

But one young man really stuck out to me because I could see he wanted to tell me more. And he was very emotional and he talked to me about how he grew up in a neighborhood where if you did not jump into a gang, you pretty much, he felt you would not survive, that he had no role models and he had no choices. That always stuck with me because I wonder if there was more outreach in our society as simple as a few days a week mentorship, but some sort of perspective that tells kids there is something more. And we have such overcrowding in our jails. Do you know any of the statistics, how much mentorship helps combat that?

Christy M.: We know that mentorship in programs like New Pathways where you’re utilizing the evidence based curriculum and developing those core emotional and social skills that kids need to be successful in life, we see a one to three return. So for every dollar invested in programs like New Pathways for Youth creates a, a return of $3 to our community by preventing the need for future criminal justice or social justice services.

We also know on average it costs about $88,000 a year to incarcerate a youth in Arizona. And at New Pathways for youth or programs like ours, our services are typically in the range of about $2,000 a year per youth and providing a holistic approach to the family and to the kid that’s involved in the program.

Carey Pena: Yeah. I read some statistics from the Mentoring Effect, a 2014 report outlines the effects of mentoring for kids. 76% of at risk youth who had a mentor plan to enroll in college versus 56% who did not have access to a mentor. Working with a mentor, they say nearly doubled the number of at risk youth who participated in a sports team or an extracurricular activity and community volunteerism increased from 27% to 48%. Talk to me a little bit about that.

Eugenia: I think it’s very important. I took my youth for the first time to the ASU Tempe campus about three months ago. And at first I thought that all he was getting out of it was the recreational aspect of the university. And yesterday he was talking about going to college and a possible career and building a business. And that is powerful, to be able to hear that as opposed to everything else, to hear that he has a plan and he’s taking the steps towards that.

Carey Pena: Eugenia, I can tell that you’re very passionate about this. How old are you?

Eugenia: 23.

Carey Pena: How does it make you feel to know that at 23 years old you have walked through a difficult path yourself as a young Latina and that you are already going out into the world and making a huge difference. How does it make you feel?

Eugenia: It makes me feel like there’s a lot more work to do.

Carey Pena: You’re a girl after my own heart. You’re not going to stop here are you?

Eugenia: Not at all.

Carey Pena: So Christy, when you go into work every day, there are some challenges that you face though because you’re constantly having to get fundraising. And that’s not easy. What’s that world like?

Christy M.: Well, it’s one of passion. When you go in every day and you hear the stories of Eugenia and her youth or by mentoring in our program myself, I get to see it daily. And you never forget the faces that you are trying to help and why it’s so important to connect those dots and bring those resources and one of the interesting things, Carrie, as you were mentioning, the impact or the outcomes that are happening with youth in terms of 76% going on to reach for higher education, college, technical training.

What we also know as a statistic is that one out of three kids are on a weekly basis, are not spending meaningful time with a caring adult during the non-school hours. So the need for mentors and volunteers in our community is great. At New Pathways for Youth. We have over 150 kids this year that we will be seeking to match with a mentor. These are kids who have stepped up and said, “I’m on a trajectory in life I don’t want to be on and I need help to change it,” and we need more people like Eugenia stepping up in our community to be that committed mentor to these youth.

Carey Pena: Eugenia, let me ask you, on the subject of kids being unsupervised, it scares me to death that kids, and I know there are still … My mom was a single mom. I know every parent is fighting their own battle to try to be at home with their kids, to try to have that balance and some folks just have to work a lot. And I get that, but it scares me so much about the dangers when the kids are left alone.

You’re 23, you have a pretty good grasp on how many dangers are out there and these kids now, I mean I love social media, but there’s a whole underworld that once you’re exposed to it, it can be so damaging.

Eugenia: Absolutely. It’s a little scary having that conversation, especially with my mentee who is going on to be 17 years old in three weeks. He is practically a young adult and he’s getting ready for the world out there and he feels like he’s the man of the home and I’m proud of him for that. It’s a little bit scary because sometimes it’s a lot of the paths that a lot of youth have taken before and sometimes it doesn’t work out, but I’m really confident in my mentee. I’m confident in his ability to empathize, to take perspective, and to use that to make the home a better place.

Carey Pena: Christy, when you reflect back on your life and how you’ve come to where you are today, what do you think about? What were some of the things that along the way, you talked about your grandparents really propelling you to go on, but you’ve achieved a great deal of success. What are some of the secrets to how you’ve gotten to where you are?

Christy M.: I think Eugenia just touched on it. It’s kind of powerful to hear her share that it’s having someone to tell you that they believe in you and what they believe in, but it’s so important to have someone to tell you how to achieve that and so often we invest in our youth by telling them you can be anything you want to be, but we don’t tell them how. And that was the difference. I had grandparents telling me I could do it and I had mentors showing me how along the way and when I listened to Eugenia and her example of her youth and college, she’s helping him find out how to make that a possibility, not that it’s just an unattainable goal.

Carey Pena: Well, I love that you say that because when I’ve given speeches in particular, I love helping out whenever I can with the young women who are trying to find focus in their life and I always talk about you have to have a game plan. It’s wonderful to have dreams. Everybody at every age should have dreams, but you need to have a game plan so you can put those dreams into action and you sort of teach the kids. How do you get them in there and really construct a game plan that’s specific to get from A to B, B to C and go out and live a great life?

Christy M.: So our curriculum teaches that. One of the core things we work on with our youth is their ultimate goal being college and career readiness, that they will go to college and/or have a career that they are achieving what they want in life.

And then we start breaking that down, as early as age nine or in Eugenia’s youth example, at the age of 17 in eight week projects. So where am I in this stage of life is of youth that I’m working on something that is related to getting to that goal. So for example, the mentee that I have, one of the eight week projects we worked on was to get his driver’s license, knowing that in our community that would be an essential way to get to and from work as he becomes an adult.

So it was an eight week project that ultimately is leading toward his broader goal, his bigger goal of college and career readiness. So in our program we break down, every youth is working on an eight week project at all times and their mentor is helping them and coaching them along the way to be successful in that eight week project. For some of the kids it’s going to show up and have perfect attendance at school during this eight weeks. That’s a foundation for another eight week project of I now have attendance at school and I’m showing up so I can now focus on my grades.

Carey Pena: It’s a measurable goal.

Christy M.: Yes.

Carey Pena: And when you see these kids hitting their goals, what kind of emotional shift? It’s like someone who really wants to lose some weight and get healthier and you’re frustrated and you’re frustrated, but then all of a sudden you see you lost four pounds and you feel a lot more energetic and it just motivates you to keep going. What sort of emotional shift do you see in these kids? And that must just be really wonderful to see.

Christy M.: Oh my God, this is … when you asked me the question about when I walk in every day, it’s watching the kids and watching them evolve and then literally transform. You will watch a kid come in, first day of the program and you just see the weight of the world on them. It’s in their face, it’s on their shoulders, it’s how they carry themselves-

Carey Pena: And it’s unfair that kids have to carry those burdens.

Christy M.: Yes, it is.

Carey Pena: It’s unfair.

Christy M.: And then you’ll see three to four months later, a kid will walk in our center and their shoulders are back and their head is high and they have a smile on their face and they are ready to tell you about what they have accomplished and what’s next for them. And they are so focused and driven to make that happen. It transforms my life every day.

Carey Pena: I can see it in your face and the pride that you feel when you see that shift. You know, I was looking on your … I was trolling around on your social media a little bit. I hope you don’t mind. And I saw something that stood out to me and you said that you had Joelle Hadley, a culture coach in to train the staff and the mentors on emotional intelligence. So, I was curious about that. What did you learn from her?

Christy M.: A lot.

Carey Pena: I mean, emotional intelligence. Is that how you deal with the kids or with one another?

Christy M.: It’s actually a set of skill sets to understand what happens in our presence and in our body when we hit our triggers in life and it’s exactly what we’re teaching our kids. How do they recognize their beliefs and their thoughts about themselves and how those beliefs and thoughts may be standing as a barrier for them to reach their ultimate goal. And when I have that awareness, how do I now shift my belief about myself and start developing new patterns of thought that allow me to actually show up and behave or act in a way that’s consistent with the future I see for myself?

Carey Pena: So taking responsibility for yourself and your actions. I love that, to teach that at a young age because that’s something a lot of adults could use a crash course on. Right?

Christy M.: That is, exactly.

Carey Pena: Eugenia, I want to hear from you: what’s next? I mean, you’re just a light.  You’re a bright light and I’m just excited to see what’s next for you.

Eugenia: You know it’s not really, it’s what’s next for mentees. My youth is going to be graduating in two Mays from now and I’m very confident that he will. My other mentee is starting her freshman year in high school and she recently told me that she aspires to be valedictorian when she graduates.

Carey Pena: Well, that’s a pretty big goal.

Eugenia: That’s what’s next.

Carey Pena: And do you have any sense of what you want to do from a business perspective? Maybe we should recruit you to run for office. I’m thinking that would be pretty smart.

Eugenia: Funny you say that. Law school is next.

Carey Pena: Very good. You keep on that track and before we let you guys go, I just have had so much fun with this conversation because I love nothing more than sitting down with two incredible women who are putting good into this world. That just makes me so happy. I like to ask everyone before I let them go, and Christy has this worried look on her face, like, what’s she going to ask me? What’s going on? What’s happening? I just want to know what inspires you.

Christy M.: The youth inspire me, watching the transformation that they create in their life at such a young age and having overcome such challenges and obstacles at that point to create a new possibility and to live into that possibility to be their best self. That inspires me, and the mentors who serve them.

Carey Pena: Who are doing it out of the goodness of their heart.

Christy M.: They’re giving graciously of their time and their talents and their treasures. Just like Eugenia is.

Carey Pena: Eugenia, what inspires you?

Eugenia: Being pleasantly surprised by the youth, by the people that I’m surrounded with, by everyone.

Carey Pena: By life.

Eugenia:  Yes.

Carey Pena: That’s a good thing, right? Ladies, thank you so much. And how would folks who want to find out more information, Christine where do they find you guys?

Christy M.: They can visit us at It stands for New Pathways for

Carey Pena: Or they can troll around on your social media like I have. Thank you guys so much for being with us in the studio today and thanks to all of you for listening.