By Shayla Reaves

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A local mentoring initiative is focused on building relationships and providing guidance for young men and women across the metro.

The Doorstep Foundation started in 2016 and officially became a business in 2020. The program offers guidance, support and access to counseling for children ages eight to 18.

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Each group meets twice at month at Hope and Healing Counseling Services located at 1011 West Broadway Avenue in Minneapolis. Participants hear from guest speakers, take field trips and celebrate events happening in their lives in a supportive space.

“We’re going to learn to evolve to be brothers, whether we are in here or you see each other out in the community,” Founder and CEO Andre Debonaire McNeal said. “As you start growing up together, you can be the difference maker in breaking up a fight and building relationships. You’ll end up playing sports together, against each other. Remember, in here or out there you’re brothers.”

Right now, about 20 young men participate in the program year round. A separate program is available for young women. McNeal runs The Doorstep Foundation with his wife Dr. Zakia Robbins-McNeal. She is a therapist by trade and serves as COO of The Doorstep Foundation.

“I want them to feel like they’re part of a big family. I make sure to greet all of them, talk to them by name, we talk to their parents as soon as they come in,” Dr. Robbins-McNeal said. “We talk to them about their highlights. We talk to them about what’s going good, what’s going great, also things that they can change. It’s a holistic approach where they feel like we are here to get along and be one, as opposed to feeling isolated.”

“Before I started this, I used to like always get in trouble in school. I got kicked out of most of my schools,” Jaiden Spears said, describing the program’s impact. “Debonaire, he just helped me with it. I don’t really like do the stuff I used to do. I became a better person.”

Myles Wilson shared a different perspective.

“Every week there’s something new. There’s something new every time,” Wilson said. “I think it’s made me a lot more responsible and kind of understanding of what’s going on in my world. I think its definitely made me able to form stronger connections with people.”

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For LaKhil Garlington, the program has changed his life.

“It has helped me a lot, to become a better person and to problem solve,” Garlington said. “Being able to control my emotions, just being a leader. It’s a loving, caring place. Everybody has your back. Andre, he’s amazing. He’s always there for you. He’ll always be there for you.”

The bond translates beyond the bi-monthly meetings. The McNeals attend graduations, sporting events and more.

“He’s actually doing the work. I’m not just saying that because he’s my husband,” said Dr. Robbins-McNeal. “He’s calling them. He’s checking up on them. He’s checking in on their parents. He’s making sure they [participants] know he is actually here. This is not just for a photo-op.”

Andre Debonaire McNeal said he wants to expand the program to include more partnerships with schools, school districts, parents and students. He said he can see the difference it’s making.

“The reaction you get from the children themselves…and what you get from the parents,” McNeal said. “Even the relationship I have with some of the teachers at some of the schools that the boys attend. Parents telling you that they see the difference in the relationship in our boys and how the boys are now opening up. How they’re behaving on the regular basis. How they’re thinking better and using a thought process that we teach here to prevent some of the issues that they had prior to becoming a member of Doorstep….We know that we’re doing our part to leave the community in better hands with men that we’ve poured into along with their families. ”

This month, The Doorstep Foundation is participating in Minneapolis Youth Violence Prevention week. Guest speakers will include Mayor Jacob Frey, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, Fire Chief Bryan Tyner, State Senator Bobby Joe Champion and others.

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For more information on The Doorstep Foundation, how to donate or partner with them, click here. 

Shayla Reaves