For Michael Arterbehrry, mentorship comes as second nature. Motivated to share his gift in changing lives around him, Mike founded Youth Voices Center, Inc. (YVC) in 2008. YVC touches thousands of adolescent’s lives each year through its at-risk youth intervention program called “Power of Peace.”
In an interview, Mike shared that the main purpose of his program is “ to give young people a safe place to explore some of the things that are going on their lives and also build community with the other young people who are going through the program with them.” Mike clearly achieves this goal in every session as he touches the lives of students and teachers alike.
Mike brings his Power of Peace program to school districts across Westchester, Schenectady and Columbia Counties. The Power of Peace program is usually offered implemented in two-day sessions. A group of 18-35 students and two faculty members are recommended by school staff members to take part in the program. These students and faculty members represent a diverse demographic. Sometimes, Mike facilitates larger groups of nearly 100 people at a time, but he prefers working more intimately with smaller groups.
During a regular session, participants are informed that they will be removed from their normal routines and class schedules for two full school days. They have no idea what to expect or who else is attending. On the first day of the program, participants hesitantly walk into the room and find a circle of chairs and many new faces.
When participants meet Mike for the first time, Mike’s appearance is quite intimidating. At 6’1 he is extremely muscular. Based upon his looks, it isn’t hard to imagine that at one point of his life, Mike worked as a club-bouncer and used to compete in body building competitions. But don’t let his appearance fool you, as Mike’s personality and kind-hearted nature are what led him to his calling. From the moment you meet him, you notice he is gentle, passionate, caring and a very loving man. When he smiles, you feel his warming compassion. These traits paired with many others, make Mike an effective mentor to thousands since the Power of Peace program began.
To begin the two-day session, Mike introduces himself, and then explains his inspiration for the program. Mikes calling for mentorship began with a very different demographic. Starting as a facilitator for an Alternative to Violence Project (AVP) at Green Haven Correctional Facility in upstate New York, Mike began to see that he had a God-given gift to change lives. He took the techniques he learned and adapted them in order to make Power of Peace the effective youth mentorship program.
After introducing himself and putting the program into context, Mike lays down the program’s rules. The most important of these rules is “what gets shared in this room, stays in this room.” By enforcing this rule, Mike establishes confidentiality and trust within the group.
Mike asks everyone in the group to choose a positive adjective that describes them that starts with the first letter of their name. This exercise is how Mike got the name “Mighty Mike.” After everyone goes around and shares their Power of Peace name, Mike transitions and begins to tell his life story. As Mike opens up about the hardships he has faced growing up in New Rochelle, everyone in the room is left speechless. He establishes an irrevocable respect that sets a very trusting and accepting tone throughout the group that encourages others to share.
For the rest of the two-day session, participants learn about themselves and others through trust building and reflective activities. Students are shocked to learn how they are not alone and how many of their schoolmates have experienced similar hardships. Teachers who participate are often changed permanently and view their job completely differently as they learn that their students return to harsh lives the moment they leave school.
After the program is over, all participants feel a strong bond with one another and admit that they have built relationships that will last for a lifetime. After participation, one student from Schenectady High School stated, “ Today honestly changed my life. I know it was only two days I spent with you guys but it had an impact so great that it changed 15 years. I hope you guys know what you do is amazing. Thank you so much Mighty Mike.”
Mike visits most school districts monthly and has a different group of students each time. Occasionally, Mike offers a “Level 2” workshop where he welcomes back previous participants for another session filled with more in-depth lessons and activities. After every session, Mike provides participants with his contact information as he emphasizes that he does not just mentor for the duration of the program but instead takes on the role of being a mentor for life.
Mike’s mentorship has impacted thousands of student’s lives and has redirected many students onto the right path. His teachings have influenced his mentees to avoid violence, love themselves and others and to focus on overall self-improvement. Mike’s Power of Peace program is a critical learning experience for adolescents of all backgrounds and types.