Journey Forward Mentoring: Lighting the path to success for Dallas students

Story and video by Lawson Martin. Photos by Journey Forward Mentoring.

A mentorship program serves as a guiding light in Dallas by helping students of color who are historically underrepresented in higher education.

Journey Forward Mentoring, originally named Leadership Forward Mentoring Program, is in its tenth year of operation. The nonprofit started as a small grassroots initiative, as a handful of students from W.H. Adamson High School were connected with volunteer mentors, and it has since taken off. In addition to W.H. Adamson High School, Journey Forward Mentoring partners with CityLab High School, Sunset High School, and its newest partners, Molina High School and After8toEducate.

Journey Forward Mentoring has two programs: its Next Gen Mentoring and Edge programs.

Next Gen Mentoring is a one-on-one mentorship program for high school students, where students are paired with adults from the community who volunteer as mentors. These adults help students explore different career paths while they share their knowledge and life experiences with the students. This program allows students to “make informed decisions about their future during a crucial stage in their lives,” according to Journey Forward Mentoring’s website.

In Next Gen Mentoring, mentors meet with their mentees twice a month, either virtually or on campus. Mentors are encouraged to work with the students to identify the areas most valuable to them so they can tailor their sessions accordingly. Mentors help students envision their futures and create steps to help students achieve their dreams. This could include preparation for their high school classes, goal setting, resume writing, the college application process, or future careers.

Journey Forward Mentoring program's 2023 end of year celebration, with two mentor/mentee pairings. Photo provided by Journey Forward Mentoring.

Journey Forward Mentoring’s second program, Edge, is for students who have graduated high school, especially students who were in the Next Gen Mentoring program. Through group mentoring and one-on-one college advising, Edge focuses on providing help and resources by aiding students as they transition from high school to postsecondary and beyond. Students also work together to build their own supportive network and community.

Anjulie Ponce, executive director of Journey Forward Mentoring. Photo by Erin Schreyer.

Long before Anjulie Ponce became executive director of Journey Forward Mentoring, she was a mentor in the program while she was practicing law.

“I had a phenomenal experience being a mentor,” Anjulie says. “I saw how impactful mentoring was, not just for the student, but also for myself.”

While mentoring, Anjulie learned that the nonprofit was preparing to hire an executive director, and she knew deep within that inspiring local students was her calling.

Anjulie helped lead the nonprofit’s recent rebranding from Leadership Forward Mentoring Program to Journey Forward Mentoring.

“We’re excited about this new name because it embraces the idea that life is a journey and reflects our commitment to our students so that they know we’re here to walk alongside them on whatever path they take,” Anjulie says. “And by embracing the importance of the journey, we encourage our students to envision their future and actively shape it themselves.”

A student who is actively shaping her future thanks to the help of her mentor is Alexis Cardenas. She has been working with her mentor, Latrice Totsch, DNP, MBA a local nurse practitioner and business owner. Latrice also teaches spin classes, and was approached by one of her students in her cycling class to ask if she’d be interested in signing up. She decided to become a mentor because she says she would have appreciated having a mentor herself when she was in high school to ask questions about life and the future.

Alexis Cardenas and her mentor, Latrice Totsch, DNP, MBA. Photo provided by Journey Forward Mentoring.

“My parents didn’t have money for college. I knew that if I went to college, it would be completely up to me to get there and to find my path,” Latrice says, adding she didn’t have anyone there at the time to guide her. “Anytime I enter into a mentorship, I’m trying to support and let them see there’s another path, especially if you were raised in a similar household.”

Meanwhile, Alexis heard about Journey Forward Mentoring at her orientation program at Adamson High School and decided to sign up. She was introduced to Latrice during her senior year.

“I was looking for someone to guide me through my career,” Alexis says. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do initially.”

The pair have been inseparable since, smiling and laughing while having meaningful life discussions. Latrice worked with Alexis to set goals and focus on different topics every time they met, such as scholarships and college applications.

“I didn’t know anything about going to college, and she has already gone to college,” Alexis says. “So we started there and looked at scholarships, universities, and colleges.”

Alexis recently started her second semester of a highly competitive sonography program at Dallas College and will graduate next December. Alexis is part of the first group of students to go through the nonprofit’s Edge program.

Because Latrice is a nurse practitioner, she has been able to introduce Alexis to various opportunities in the medical field.

“At first, I was interested in nursing, then I decided to change my career path to sonography,” Alexis says.

“I’ve always just tried to support her in what she wanted to do,” Latrice says. “I think as you’re a teenager going through high school, you have so many opinions being given to you by friends, by family, and I just wanted her to trust herself and let that lead her wherever she went.”

Most importantly, Latrice has been a role model for Alexis to lean on whenever she needed extra support in high school and college.

“I think the most important thing was just to be a person outside of friends and family for her to talk to and get advice from,” Latrice says. “I feel like I’ve gained a friend.”

According to Anjulie, the program is inclusive. Regardless of their level of involvement at school, grades, or career aspirations, any student is encouraged to apply to become a mentee.

“Our goal is to connect with every 10th and 11th grader at our schools to make sure they know about the opportunity to sign up for a mentor,” Anjulie says. “Every student has what it takes to be successful, and often that goes unnoticed.”

Similarly, Journey Forward Mentoring is looking to recruit mentors from various backgrounds.

“It’s essential for us that we have a wide range of lived experiences, career paths, and education paths, as well as individuals with diverse, racial and ethnic backgrounds because that’s what allows us to have really great matches,” Anjulie says. “This allows us to look at what student and mentor will do the best together and connect them.”

Anjulie believes being dedicated and being a good listener makes a good mentor. This allows them to be open-minded and genuinely listen to what’s best for each student.

This year, dozens of students have already signed up to be mentees and Journey Forward Mentoring will be recruiting even more students through September. As a result, the organization is looking for more mentors. The nonprofit will provide each mentor with training, resources, and ongoing support so that they are equipped to be the best mentor they can be.

Journey Forward Mentoring's 2023 graduating mentee class. Photo provided by Journey Forward Mentoring.

Latrice encourages anyone considering being a mentor to “go for it,” even if uncertain because they could offer precisely what a student needs. Alexis also encourages all students to sign up for the mentorship program.

“Even if you don’t know what you want to do, it’s OK,” she says. “Someone can guide you. Someone can support you. If you know someone is there for you, go for it.”

To Anjulie, Journey Forward Mentoring means discovering untapped potential.

“I see a tremendous amount of untapped potential for the students in Dallas,” Anjulie says. “And as a community, I see a lot of untapped potential, especially with individuals who’d make amazing mentors. And so I hope that they’ll hear about this opportunity and sign up to become a mentor.”

Journey Forward Mentoring contributes to building lasting communities by ensuring that each student can achieve their best potential and become a source of inspiration for generations to come.

Interested mentors must be willing to meet with students on average twice a month for 30 to 60 minutes.

Anyone interested in becoming a mentor for Journey Forward Mentoring during the 2023-2024 school year should fill out an application on Journey Forward Mentoring’s website. You’re also encouraged to donate to the program to help students achieve their college and career dreams.