Murphy Shares Lessons on Mentoring at Workforce Wednesday Event
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Tonja Murphy speaks to Workforce Wednesday attendees on July 17, 2019.
Photo credit: Antonio Mack
Tonja Murphy, Youth Engagement Specialist for Midtown Partners and founder of the Ladybug Club mentoring program, was the guest speaker for Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s Workforce Wednesday Luncheon held July 17 at MPB.

Workforce Wednesdays are monthly luncheons held every third Wednesday in the MPB Education area. In addition to networking, participants get information about workforce development including mentoring programs, apprenticeships, work-based learning and soft skills.

For nearly 20 years, Murphy has worked with youth and their families in Jackson and throughout Mississippi. She founded the Ladybug Club in 2005, a mentoring program for girls ages 6-16 and their mothers who live in the greater Jackson area. During her speech, she shared lessons learned from her career.

Early on she realized that when working with youth, always include their parents and guardians. This was lesson No. 1. For example, in the Ladybug Club the girls and their moms participate in an activity called the Fishbowl Combo. The girls anonymously put questions in a bowl, and the moms pull out the questions to answer. The activity helped moms continue the conversations at home, while allowing the adults to jointly take interest in the youth’s well-being.

Lesson No. 2 was to not tell them what to do, but help them arrive at a decision they can live with. Murphy stressed the importance of exploring options with youth for the best outcomes when problems arise. For example, she recalled a student who wanted to go to college but had decided only after various deadlines had passed. Over several sessions the student was able to develop goal setting and budgeting skills and eventually enrolled in a community college.

Lesson No. 3 seems simple but has made a huge difference in mentoring – provide opportunities to be creative. Murphy stressed asking youth what they need to be creative. Responding appropriately helps them know they are heard and valued. A few other lessons include fostering intergenerational cohesiveness in the workplace and presenting an atmosphere where youth willingly ask for guidance.

According to Murphy, all of these lessons helped in the design of TEEN Connect, the program she administers at Midtown Partners. TEEN stands for Transform, Engage, Empower and Network.

Murphy’s main takeaways from mentoring over the years are, “Teach youth what you know, expose them to opportunities, encourage them to do better than you’re doing right now and openly express appreciations for their accomplishments,” she said.

Workforce Wednesdays are a part of MPB’s American Graduate: Getting to Work initiative to help advance education and career readiness locally. MPB works with partners across the state to assess workforce challenges, determine opportunities, produce content on career paths and skills needed for students and workers.

The next event will be held August 21, and is open to the public with limited seating. Registration is required. Visit gettingtowork.mpbonline.org for more information.