At 18 years old, Dena Petty was living in her car. Many considered her “at-risk” to graduate, but she did. Barely.
Fast forward to today and she celebrates the 10th anniversary of her organization, Mentors Care, which she founded to help high schoolers get on track and graduate.
“Our dream and our goal is to continue serving our communities with excellence and then growing,” Petty explained. “Lives are being changed every day.”
The focus of the program is to help the emotional and social wellbeing of a student, Petty noted. She said most of what the mentors do is talk to the students and make them feel heard. Mentors also bring snacks, which is important for Petty because she remembers being hungry as a child.
The program helps about 50 to 60 students at each of the five high schools it serves, including Midlothian High School, Midlothian Heritage High School, Red Oak High School, Maypearl High School and Palmer High School. Next year, the program will roll out at Ferris High School.
The students helped through the program are all considered to be “at-risk” of graduating. The schools note the students who are at-risk and refer them to the program. Students at-risk can be identified with state indicators like homelessness, single-parent homes, poverty and parent incarceration.
“The partnerships with the school are really important because they refer kids to us,” Petty explained. “We interview the student to be sure that they want to do it because it’s all voluntary. The students are voluntary and the mentors are voluntary.”
To celebrate the organization’s 10th anniversary, Petty wanted to honor the mentors who do the groundwork every day. They hosted a superhero-themed luncheon to commemorate what Petty called, “the year of the mentor.”
During the luncheon, Petty recognized mentors who have been a part of the program from one year all the way to those who started in the program’s inaugural year.
“It’s all for the purpose of buying into why they need to graduate from high school and if you know they are struggling there is usually a reason,” Petty added. “We just start talking to them not that we’re therapists or anything. We are friends, and we walk alongside them and do what we can to make life a little better for them.”
These are the people Petty wished she had when she was in high school.
When Petty was in school, her father was involved in illegal doings and her mother was emotionally absent. Petty noted that she left home as a teenager when she found a note her mother wrote, which said she was going to kill herself and her children. At that point, Petty knew she would be better off on her own.
“I missed as much school as I could get away with and I did,” Petty said. “I was a horrible student.”
Petty’s life has flourished more than she ever thought possible since then. She has a family of her own and she is helping people just like her younger self through the Mentor’ Care program, which got its start at Midlothian High School.
One of the first students to be helped through the program was Kelbi Kubicek, who is now the marketing and communications assistant at the Midlothian Chamber of Commerce.
Kubicek said when she was in high school, she was heavily involved in drugs.
“There’s no easy way to say it. I was bad,” said Kubicek about her years in school.
In her sophomore year, her parents moved her to a new school in Waxahachie and she was asked not to come back the next year, so Kubicek went back to Midlothian High School.
Her parents heard about the Mentors Care program and made her start her junior year. During that time, she worked with her mentor to realize her life doesn’t end in high school and that her bad decisions don’t determine her life.
“We had a really good connection from the beginning,” Kubicek said. “Even though she knew what I was doing and knew how much trouble I was in. She still had hope.”
It took her a bit to buy into the program but after Kubicek saw two friends die of drug overdoses as a teenager and realized she didn’t want to end up like them, so she started to work her way out of addiction.
Kubicek graduated from high school and currently works for the chamber of commerce and is expecting her first child.
Kubicek is now a mentor with Mentors Care and giving back to students like her.
Samantha Douty, @SamanthaDouty