Rob Fridenberg, program chairperson for the Silver Lining Mentor Program, and RosaLeigh Johnson, director of mental health and wellness for the Novi Community School District, discuss the senior volunteer program Feb. 28.

Rob Fridenberg, program chairperson for the Silver Lining Mentor Program, and RosaLeigh Johnson, director of mental health and wellness for the Novi Community School District, discuss the senior volunteer program Feb. 28.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Seniors mentor at-risk youth in Novi

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published March 8, 2024


NOVI — The nonprofit Novi Youth Assistance is bringing back the Silver Lining Mentor Program this month and is in need of volunteers.

The program pairs at-risk youth in the Novi Community School District in grades K-6 with a senior adult mentor to offer support and guidance through conversation and activities at the school during a 30- to 60-minute period once a week during the school day.

“We know one of the No. 1 preventative or protective factors for our students who are struggling or at risk is to have a positive adult role model, and that’s really what Silver Lining Mentor Program is about,” said RosaLeigh Johnson, the director of mental health and wellness for the Novi Community School District.

The students are selected for the program by school administrators. Currently, each school  principal — seven in all — was asked to select two students for the program, and according to Johnson, the response came back that they could probably each name 10-12 students.

Johnson said there is a wide range of factors that could deem a student as “at-risk.” They include anxiety, poor social skills, trauma, family conflict, poverty, poor peer relationships and more.

The Silver Lining Mentor Program ran for several years in the district before it was forced to end abruptly in early 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mentors act as role models to the children by engaging in some one-on-one time with them. This is done through having conversations over a common-interest activity, such as building a puzzle or shooting baskets.

“It’s not a tutor. It’s not a social worker or a counselor. It’s just somebody to have a positive interaction with,” Johnson said.

She said it differs from an interaction with a social worker in that it is activities-based. She said people typically think of interacting with social workers as sitting across from them at a table, but with the mentorship program, the student is interacting with the mentor through an activity that causes the conversation to flow.

“That’s organic conversation that happens just from playing cards or doing some sort of activity,” said program chair Rob Fridenberg.

Mentors are paired with students based on responses from a parent questionnaire that includes the students’ hobbies and interests. For example, if a mentor is an engineer by trade, that mentor might be paired with a student who has expressed an interest in robotics. Administrators also consider the mentor’s preference and comfort level with various age groups.

Fridenberg recalled having a first grade mentee who was really into dinosaurs. He said that student gave him an education on the names of the different dinosaurs.

“He knew them all. So it was like he was tutoring me,” Fridenberg said. “Yeah, he was great. The first day meeting him, it was like I had known him for five years already, so it was really cool.”

Fridenberg said he had a fifth grade mentee who was into superheroes, and because of that passion, the two started to collaborate on writing a cartoon book. He said that they would both draw superheroes and would try to add words to the drawings. He said they were adding to the book every week.

Another student took an interest in Fridenberg’s background.

“He was very intelligent, and he found out I was an engineer, and he wrote, like, a math test for me to do,” said Fridenberg, “which was, like, incredible.”

The other thing that is important to consider is the mentor’s availability. All mentor sessions happen during the school day, sometime between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. This makes it challenging for many working adults and makes it ideal for a retired senior citizen, according to Fridenberg.

“I’m pretty much a 12-year-old still, myself. That’s why when we had our son I was so happy, because I could start buying, like, the radio-controlled trucks. So that was an excuse to do all that stuff again. So for me, it was just fun being around young kids again, and it’s kind of rewarding as well,” said Fridenberg.

Volunteers will be given an hourlong training session to go over the logistics of the program, meet the staff they will be interacting with and meet their mentees, as well as options for activities. They are also taught what to do if a child says something that needs to be reported and how to handle things that can occur in a school, such as an emergency drill.

Potential mentors must apply and are given a thorough background check before being accepted as a volunteer mentor for the Silver Lining Mentor Program. There are currently five  people who have applied for the program and been approved, but there is a need for many more.  Mentors are able to take on as many students as they would like. Most choose to take on one to two students.

For more information on the program and to apply to become a mentor, contact Carrie Reichley, of Novi Youth Assistance, at or call (248) 675-3089.