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This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.

Jasmine Johnikin (top far right) and Sarah Smith (front right) hang out with their mentees, Faith Jones (far left) and Ayanna Lacking (middle). The team organizes hangout days to bring more fun and relaxation to the program. (Photo provided by Jasmine Johnikin)

Saving patients’ lives is what she does on a daily basis but touching the lives of Milwaukee’s North Side teens as they try to discover themselves is what nurse Jasmine Johnikin layers on top.

During the pandemic, Johnikin felt fulfilled after graduating from nursing school at Cardinal Stritch University in 2020.

Yet, she heard yet another calling.

This calling – a passion for youths – prompted the North Side resident to launch a nonprofit mentoring organization called As I Am Mentoring Inc. in March 2021.

“My teenage years were my most hardest years growing up,” she said.

However, she added, this stage of confusion and discomfort is where teens discover who they are and what it takes to become an adult.

As I Am serves as an extra guide for youths to thrive and discover their purpose.

“I know it’s hard for them to see that sometimes, especially when the media gives them such a bad representation,” said Johnikin.

To try to help, she sees past teens’ attitudes and stereotypes.

“I see a human being trying to figure it out and make it in a big scary world,” she said.

To start, Johnikin gathered trusted friends and family to share her vision and researched what it takes to have a mentorship program.

To tap into more knowledge, she partners with other mentor advocacy programs, including MENTOR Greater Milwaukee.

All finances come from her own income as a community outreach nurse at Gee’s MKE Wellness Clinic.

Working alongside Johnikin is her best friend, Sarah Smith, who is one of four volunteer mentors.

“Seeing Jasmine’s growth and passion for teens made me want to help in any kind of way,” Smith said.

Smith remembers how it felt not having anyone to lean on for help during her teen years, and it led to depression.

Each time a mentee’s eyes light up with knowledge brings Smith joy.

The teens have done vision boards, discussed body image and made portraits of themselves. Sessions are held once a month every second Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 6801 N Yates Road. in Duns Scotus Hall at Cardinal Stritch University.

The sessions begin with prayer, an ice-breaker game and then a curriculum created and taught by Johnikin and her team. Most of her curriculum comes from surveys that have a list of topics that the teens want to work on.

Drawing on her nursing background, Johnikin employs one of the terms she learned, SBAR, which stands for Situation, Background, Assessment and Recommendation. This is a term used in the nursing profession to facilitate conversations among health care workers. Johnikin has repurposed this term. At As I Am, it stands for Speaking It, Believing It, Achieving It, and Receiving It. This is the organization’s model.

Sixteen-year-old Faith Jones is one of nine teens who participate in the program. She said she feels that she has expanded her horizons since surrounding herself with more positive people.

The Brynwood neighborhood resident said: “Sometimes you can tell if someone is going through it and here, we point it out, and everyone is there to help fix it.”

Johnikin has a struggle that sometimes prompts disappointment: getting more enrollment.

But at those moments of disappointment, Smith tells her: “Sometimes the small est settings are the most intimate.”

How to get involved

Milwaukee North and South Side teens and mentors interested in becoming a part of the organization, can go to the MENTOR Greater Milwaukee portal or email asiamentoring@gmail.com to inquire.

Someone from the team will send an application and a consent form for parents to sign. Inquiring mentors will undergo a background check, interview with Johnikin and go over a code of conduct.

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