By: ANN BROWN
New York-based attorney Janine A. Morris, who is also the author of Diva Diaries, and manager, Litigation and Discovery at Viacom, always wanted to find a way to reach and help develop young people. So now she is in the process of building a group called SELAH to do just that. SELAH is a mentorship program based in New York and New Jersey for young adults, from the age of 12 to18. Its goal is to facilitate a means for the powerful influence of entertainment to be used in a positive manner in the lives of youth. While working in media, Morris says she realized the strong effect that entertainers and media had on young boys and girls. “Some negative effects and some positive. I felt that there was a need for our entertainers to also use their influence in a good way. I started a program at my job at the time that brought local celebrities into the schools to speak with children about what it really meant to be cool… which was staying in school and becoming successful,” she says. “As my career grew, I wanted to start a mentorship program that embodied the same philosophy.” And it was Morris’ mother, who died two years ago from cancer, who inspired her. “Everyone who knew her could attest that she was a woman with great integrity. I believe it was with that integrity that she raised me, my siblings and our friends to be better participants in this world. So I named the organization, SELAH, after a term used to emphasize her life at her funeral. SELAH stands for Sharing Entertainment, Leadership and Heritage,” she says. SELAH currently has 10 people on staff. For Morris, mentoring young children is vital to their becoming thriving adults. “In this day and age, it is a lot harder for young women, and men, growing up. To be ‘cool’ is such a necessity for kids to survive in this social climate. Unfortunately, kids lose sight of where the line has to be drawn between being cool and being wise,” she explains. “Mentoring is a way to help kids get some guidance on issues they can’t otherwise discuss with parents, friends or school staff. A ‘cool’ stranger is sometimes easier to relate to. That makes it a lot easier for a mentor to share wisdom and insight with a teen who somewhat looks up to them.” Young mentors especially benefit from mentoring, says Morris. “I will add that young women need mentorship, in particular. Not just because of their desire to be in the in crowd, but because their self worth is very crucial to their lives as young women and as adults. They often get mixed signals from parents and images in the media. They can particularly use the mentoring in regards to this, to get guidance on maintaining their self value throughout their journey to remain socially relevant.” Through SELAH, young men and women will be partnered with a mentor who will sit down with them and set their goals, long-term and short-term. “The short term goals are expected to be met throughout the school year, with the help of the mentor if need be. Different executives, media personalities and celebrities will be ‘featured mentors’ who will also be guest speakers throughout the year to discuss different topics that will be helpful to the children,” explains Morris. The children are encouraged through incentives. “As the kids apply the mentoring they’ve received, and as they reach their goals, we will reward them with incentives for reaching them. For example, if a young man gets his GPA up to the goal that was set, he can win tickets to a concert or an exclusive opportunity to hang with his favorite celebrity, etc.,” says Morris. Morris is in the process of putting the foundation together for the organization, this includes getting its official non-profit status and fund-raising efforts underway. “The plan is to fund-raise through different events and functions as well as accepting donations from any donors,” she says. “The organization is just getting started so at the onset, getting children to understand the concept and view this as ‘not your grandmother’s mentorship program’ was an obstacle. However, once the format was explained it became easier. The response from the entertainment world has been great so far. The plan is to have 50 kids every school year and have more open-to-the-public programming during the summer time,” she says.