Alumni Profile: Mike Trout

Posted by: DVULI | January 17, 2022

Alumni Profile: Mike Trout, founder of YMEN, with two people posing for a photo, by Will Cumby.

YMEN Jamal, Mike Trout, and Christian: Better together! by Will Cumby (Houston 2010)

► ALUMNI: Mike Trout (Chicago 2007)
► ORGANIZATION: Young Men’s Educational Network
► CURRENT POSITION: Founder and Executive Director

Tell us about your youth program and how you fulfill its mission.

The Young Men’s Educational Network, known as YMEN, is a committed network of indigenous community members located in North Lawndale, on the west side of Chicago . YMEN’s mission is to adequately equip the next generation of African American emerging leaders with the support, skills, and opportunities to impact the community and the world in the name of Jesus Christ. YMEN has grown to include an array of programs and initiatives focused on developing the North Lawndale community. Annually, YMEN provides nearly 1,200 hours of in-school and after-school engagement activities to an average of 300 youth. The strength of YMEN is its indigenous leadership.

Why do you think God has called you to this work?

God has called me to offer a physical presence of the love He has as our Heavenly Father. In 1992, my wife and I moved into North Lawndale to support the education of its youth.  We quickly recognized the incredible challenges that our neighborhood boys faced with the large percentages of incarcerated men and the number of homes without active fathers. I want to make a dent by having a presence in young men’s lives. The joy of this work is the reciprocity my wife and I frequently experience between our community and our family. My neighbors inspire me with their perseverance, resourcefulness, hope, and deep faith. I remember when my wife mentored a pregnant teen. Years later, that same girl advised my wife on an aspect of motherhood after our first biological child was born (we also have three adopted children). In serving, I have also been served. This community has not only helped me exercise my gifts, but they’ve also helped carry my sorrows.

Mike Trout celebrates Arnez’s eighth grade graduation. He now attends college at Trinity International.What do you hope to accomplish while you serve in this capacity?

I want each of our sons and daughters to know that they are deeply loved and that God has a wonderful plan for their lives. YMEN believes that God’s plan is holistic and includes developing one’s talents, intelligence, physical strength, emotional IQ, and relational network. Introducing young people to God, means we are introducing them to His desire that they operate to their greatest potential. YMEN also believes that all of our activities from tutoring to recreation, from college visits to service projects, from fishing to eating at Golden Corral are spiritual and help us to lean into God’s love and plan for our lives. There is only one source of true LOVE and that is the giver of all good and perfect things. YMEN’s greatest accomplishment is connecting one of our young people to their Heavenly Father.
What challenges have you or the organization had to overcome?

The greatest challenge in youth ministry are the voices that dehumanize our children. Voices that tell them they are “less than”, that they are “not valued”, that they are “not worthy”, that they are “not enough”. Because many young people are an audience to regular negativity, they tend to accept that message. When programs develop faster than empowered relationships, you hit capacity limits and head for burnout. There are circumstances we can’t control and wounds we self-inflict. I have learned to acknowledge that whatever chapter our youth, YMEN, or I am in, it is just a page in the story and not the end of the book. Walking in obedience to the Holy Spirit allows God to be the author. Our challenges turn to testimonies when we choose to participate in what God is writing.

What are you most proud of that the program has accomplished?

I am most proud of our former mentees turned mentors. The children who started with me in 1996 are now enrolling their children in the YMEN family. Nearly all of YMEN’s staff are former students who are now reinvesting in the next generation. YMEN students impacting lives in Chicago and around the country gives me great joy.

 Derrick becomes part of the three percent of African American males in North Lawndale to earn a bachelor’s degree. He received his degree from Elmhurst College. What kind of collaborative opportunities are benefiting this work?

One of our most critical collaborative relationships is with the Chicago Public Schools. YMEN can teach our curriculum inside the public schools during the school day. [BG(C-F6] School administrators and classroom teachers have credited our work with increasing promotion rates, lowering student infractions, and reducing peer bullying and student conflict. Our most recent collaborative efforts include four urban gardens, a community refrigerator, and an initiative called the Bike Box. The Bike Box is a partnership with a local bike store that retrofitted a shipping container into a lending bike library for community members. Community members can check out a bike, repair their bike, or purchase an affordably priced bike. These collaborative efforts encourage school members to bike their community and learn their neighborhood, eat organically grown produce, and share resources with those in need.

How can your DVULI family be praying for you as you move forward?

Pray that the YMEN team and I keep our eyes on Jesus, noting when to move forward and when to step back. I also ask that you pray for us as we grow and seek new family members and leaders who model reconciliation (true friendship) and embody shalom. Lastly, it never hurts to pray for resources to get the job done! I have learned, though, that God’s plans never lack His provision.

This article was published in the Winter 2021 issue of DVULI’s On the Level print newsletter.