ORLANDO, Fla. – On a mission to help vulnerable youth, Samantha Wallace and her older brother Chris Wallace pride themselves on giving back while using their life experiences and faith to help young people make positive choices.
They're committed to get results through a mentorship program they created in 2014 aimed at helping children stay on track and preventing them from choosing a life on the streets.
Samantha and Chris Wallace are both graduates of Jones High School in Orlando. They are the visionaries and founders behind MAN UP Mentoring Inc. They believe that with the right guidance and mentorship, young people will be more inspired to see their full potential and make better choices.
MAN UP Mentoring Inc. is an official nonprofit organization primarily serving at-risk youth ages 11 to 18 who reside in the Ivey Lane Homes and Washington Shores neighborhoods in Orlando.
It is a respected organization that has served hundreds of at-risk children and made an impact for years.
"Our mission is to continually improve the quality of life for at-risk youth by providing educational mentoring and social services, equipping them to lead inspiring lives," Samantha Wallace said. "We are not experts on mentoring vulnerable youth at all. This is neither one of our areas of expertise. We are merely answering the call God placed upon us."
Founder Chris Wallace told News 6 he's passionate about helping the youth. He's known as the heart of the program who birthed it from the ground.
"I see so many kids that have lost hope in life," Chris Wallace said. "They are hurt, lacking a father figure in their life, and just don't feel loved by the ones that they want it from most of all."
His passion for working with inner-city youth sparked when he surrendered his life to Christ and joined Redeeming Light Center in Eatonville. He began working very closely with his pastor Thomas Brown, to build and grow the MAN UP program. It was there that he recognized that working with troubled youth was his ministry.
Chris Wallace has worked for Frito-Lay since 1989, prior to graduating from Jones High School. The company, along with Walmart, has been the greatest financial and volunteer partner for MAN UP Mentoring.
Samantha Wallace has worked for years serving and advocating for at-risk youth. Her passion for working with youth sparked when she was in graduate school in Atlanta. That's when she became active in her church, Cascade United Methodist, and worked with the youth ministry Christian Rites of Passage.
She ended up moving back to Orlando and started substitute teaching part time and tutoring students for Orange County Public Schools. She lives by the motto, “Enter to Learn and Depart to Serve,” by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.
As a volunteer, she's worked with inner-city children and collaborated with Orange County Public Schools, the Orlando Neighborhood Improvement Corp., the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Violent Crime Task Force, the Central Florida Urban League Youth Advisory Council and local churches.
"Equipped with the proper resources, at-risk youth have the power to help transform the social fabric of their communities and the trajectory of their future," Samantha Wallace said.
As the executive director of a prevention and diversion program in Orange County, she focuses on developing and cultivating strategic partnerships to leverage stable and ongoing funding resources and motivating volunteers to achieve a common goal.
The MAN UP Mentoring program has become known for its distinct programs and service in the community. Here are a few of its signature programs:
- MAN UP n' Empower - a weekly mentoring program in Ivey Lane Homes and Eccleston Elementary School
- MAN UP n' Cook - Men cooking, serving and mentoring
- Christmas in The Shores - Outdoor movie night
- Honoring Our Queens - Mother & daughter affair
- Breakfast with Kings & Queens at The Grand Bohemian Hotel
- Girls Empowerment Weekend
- Boys Empowerment Weekend
- Washington Shores Community Garden
To give you an idea of the impact this organization has had on the community, in the fall of 2018, MAN UP Mentoring expanded to Eccleston Elementary School, working with high-risk fifth grade boys. Statistics given to us from MAN UP Mentoring said 80% of the youth served through the years demonstrated a decrease in delinquent behaviors, 85% exhibited positive decision-making and 90% of the mentees successfully completed the program.
The Wallaces' motto is based on the Bible verse from Jeremiah 29:11, “'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
They also attribute the success of their organization, in part, to their committed volunteers and many community sponsors.
You can read more about MAN UP Mentoring Inc. and donate to the organization here.