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Q&A: City of Peoria launches project to provide role models for youth

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali (left) visits the WCBU studio to discuss the Peoria Role Model Project, along with mentor Vance Jordan, a senior designer at Farnsworth Group.
Collin Schopp
Peoria Mayor Rita Ali (left) visits the WCBU studio to discuss the Peoria Role Model Project, along with mentor Vance Jordan, a senior designer at Farnsworth Group.

Peoria has launched a new mentoring program in the midst of ongoing concerns about violence in the city. The Peoria Role Model project brings together 100 Black professionals to give kids a better idea of the opportunities available to them.

I spoke with mentor Vance Jordan, a senior designer at Farnsworth Group, and Mayor Rita Ali to learn more about the program.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Vance, tell me about the process of getting involved as one of the role models?

Vance Jordan:  I think we're still a little early in the action of some of the things. But I definitely when I got word of it, I wanted to be a part of it. And I let Mayor Ali know that. And so we had, so far, we had a get together of 50 of the remodels. And I was able to share my narrative with them. And is pretty much just like how I got from wanting to be an architect as a little kid to being an HVAC engineer. And, and that was cool, you know, just sharing with 50 other role models. And so there were a few students in the audience. And so I did give them a little bit of encouragement at the end of the narrative. And hopefully, that helped. And, yeah, I like to see, you know, some of our youth being encouraged.

So kind of throw yourself back in time for a second, if you would, and think about being you know, that child that wants to be an architect, what do you think hearing your story from someone like you, you know, would have done for you at that time?

Jordan: What the thing is sometimes, there as a kid, you don't really know too many professions. You kind of see some things, you see adults kind of doing some things, but I had no idea that HVAC engineers exist. I just thought you just put a bunch of furnaces in different buildings and that was just how you heat and cool a place. But there’s, it takes so much science to heat and cool a building. And there's engineers who do that for every building. And so like, as a kid, it's just like exposure to different professions. And then you can kind of see like: “Okay, I kind of like that, I can kind of see myself doing that.” And what you like, what you're good at in school, all those things kind of build up, I think, to lead someone to what they want to do as a profession.

Mayor Ali, what’s this going to look like in practice? Are they going to be paired up one-on-one?

Mayor Rita Ali: So, there will be some one to one mentoring, but not every, there's going to be about 150 students in the program and 100 role models in this first year. So there will be some level of one to one mentoring, but not entirely. We want the youth to be exposed to many of the role models, not just one. But to have access to many. When I was growing up, I had access to many different role models. Some were in professional positions, some were not, but they were role models, still. And so I had access, I called on some for certain things and others for other things. So that's really, it's about connections, more so than the one on one mentoring type of program. What we will have is web pages that have the profiles of every last one of the 100 individuals that will feature their photograph, and it will feature their story.

This whole project kind of speaks to a conversation we've been hearing a lot in Peoria lately, particularly about young people in distressed areas of the city and their behavior and their relationships with their parents and their outlook for the future. How critical is this project to that ongoing conversation?

Ali: I think it is very critical. Sometimes there are single parent households with you know, children and the one parent in the house may be working and they may be working second shift or they may be working third shift and there may not be a significant positive adult, outside of that parent. That parent oftentimes, you know, is not able to be there because of work. So having a positive role model, a significant adult in a young person's life, research says it's very powerful. It's very important, and it sometimes can be life changing.

You can find a recording of the entire launch event for the Peoria Role Model Project, which introduces some more of the role models, here.

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.