From Belief to Action: Why Mike Volunteers

The humid St. Louis summer is officially upon us. Most students are on break from school, and some families are off taking vacations or finding fun things to do around the city. For the students in our Job & Leadership Training Summer session however, the hard work is just beginning. Students in the program commit to an 8-week bootcamp experience: with class three days a week, an internship the other two and weekly mentor meetings, this summer will be full of new opportunities and challenges.

One important component of JLT is a mentorship program. Students meet with a mentor on a weekly basis to discuss their goals for their time in the program and beyond. We interviewed mentor Mike Eaton, Chief Innovation Officer at Intellivisit and co-founder of Switch Coffee Collective, on his experience volunteering with the program over the past 2 years. This past session, he worked with a man named Kevin, a recent graduate of our spring class who completed an internship and is now employed at BJC Healthcare.

When did you get involved in the JLT program? What influenced your decision to get involved?

I first heard about Mission St. Louis through Give STL Day.  My wife and I were browsing for a non-profit to give to when we noticed M:STL was the only one near the top of the leaderboard that was investing in people. The rest of the organizations were animal oriented, which is cool, but we saw Mission: St. Louis as an ironic underdog serving people, so we went for it not knowing much about the organization.

After this, I watched Mission St. Louis from afar. I enjoyed hearing about how Mission: St. Louis was investing in under-resourced communities. Their approach seemed different, logical and lasting. After the shooting of Michael Brown happened, I wasn’t very comfortable just watching from the sidelines. My worldviews were challenged as I watched pain I never knew existed boil over and systemic problems I never experienced myself brought to light. This inspired my decision to finally get involved with JLT. I knew I needed to stretch my comfort zone and build real relationships with people from contexts different than my own. JLT offered opportunity, structure, and purpose for me to do that.

Kevin, Mike's mentee during the Spring Session

Kevin, Mike's mentee during the Spring Session

Was there a moment that really stood out to you in your time working with Kevin?

Sometimes with a student there’s this breakthrough moment along the way where they begin to recognize in themselves the value they can bring to their family, community, and work. It’s an inspirational thing to see a man, beat down by his own decisions or circumstances, begin to believe that he has value to contribute to society. This is the moment I aim for as a mentor. With Kevin, I never had that climactic moment.

It didn’t take long to see that Kevin is infinitely more talented, hard-working, and resourceful than I am.

"I realized he didn’t need to rediscover his own value when he proudly talked about recently getting married, bragged about the virtues of his children, and even started encouraging me in my own gifts and abilities."

What Kevin needed was distance from his past, open doors, and people to vouch for him. This was a reminder for me that the difference in our paths was primarily open doors and advocates.


Was the mentorship process what you expected it to be?

I don’t think I had any expectations of what this would be when I started. But as I reflect on my experiences so far, I suppose I do see a change in how I view my role as a mentor. From the day I started to today, I think I have evolved from being a tutor and crutch to an encourager and friend.

"If there were men in my city asking for help, who was I to deny them that help by not participating?" -  Mike Eaton, JLT Mentor

"If there were men in my city asking for help, who was I to deny them that help by not participating?" -Mike Eaton, JLT Mentor


What makes JLT work?

This is not my answer, but something I have heard from almost every student I’ve met: JLT is different because it addresses who people are at their core, not just what they do. It works because Jason, Chris, and the entire JLT staff and volunteer team actually care about the students as people of value.


What would you say to a potential future mentor or volunteer that might be hesitant to get involved in JLT?

One, just do it. Two, grab a friend to do it with you. I was hesitant, waiting for work to slow down or to feel like I was ready to be a mentor. Then my friend Jon said, “Hey, have you heard of this JLT thing? Let’s do it together.” He had no idea I was reluctantly thinking about signing up but it was the push I needed. You might be that push someone else needs. Plus, things are typically easier to start when you do it with someone you know.

The Job & Leadership Training Program seeks to empower men in our community to become leaders in their lives, families and workplaces. If you are looking for a way to get involved, contact Cami at for more information. Many volunteer opportunities are available, including becoming a mentor like Mike, a job coach, small group leader,  HiSET(GED) tutor or simply providing a meal for JLT's evening classes. We are also always looking for businesses that would be willing to serve as internship providers for the men in our program.




Mandy Zoelzer