In December 2006, Nick Petro was staring out the window of an upscale conference room while attending a real estate seminar on the island of Maui. When the presenter asked the participants to visualize their ideal life, Nick began to pray.
“I asked God, ‘What is it that you want me to do?’” Petro said. The answer, he recalls, came to him in minutes: Get back into the lives of young people. It was time, Petro realized, to go back to youth ministry, back to where he had started as a graduate from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 1998.
“When I started at Steubenville,” Petro recalls, “I just never fit the mold of the ‘quiet Catholic guy.’”
Instead, Petro was drawn to sports and the outdoors, with a strong desire to “take on the world” and confront the issues that he and his peers struggled with. From dealing with money to handling relationships to discerning a vocation, Petro found that many of his fellow students were not only unsure about what to do, but lacked the skills, and even in some cases the language, to begin tackling the issues.
After graduation, he landed a job as a youth minister in the Diocese of Cleveland.
“I loved the work,” Petro recalls, “but not the Midwest weather.” After three years organizing events, teaching high school and working in the diocesan office, Petro and a friend headed to sunny San Diego.
“It was really a leap of faith,” Petro said. “I went out there with about $200 in my pocket and a belief that God would open doors for me.” Petro was not disappointed.
He landed a job as youth minister at St. Gregory the Great in the Diocese of San Diego.
“That was a fantastic experience,” Petro said. “In the three years that I was at St. Gregory’s, we greatly increased the youth group size, held a number of mission trips to Mexico, and did some great work.”
Though the work was rewarding, the pay was not enough, and Petro decided that he needed to try his hand at something else: real estate.
Then came his Hawaiian epiphany. “What I realized after that seminar was, even with all the potential that I had to make money in real estate, I was not happy. I realized what it was that God wanted me to do: first and foremost, to stop comparing myself to what I thought other people had, and then using that comparison to measure what I thought I should be. Secondly, bring this same message to as many young people as I could.”
To do that, he founded Mpowered Youth, a 501(c)3 organization whose mission is to “guide, inspire and Mpower young people to discover their God-given potential through the power of the Holy Spirit as revealed through Christ.”
Through Mpowered Youth, Petro holds retreats, motivational events and mission trips for parishes, youth groups and schools. During these activities, Petro focuses young people on a series of foundational questions, starting with “Who am I?” “What are my strengths and weaknesses?” and “What does God want me to do?” By using a series of oral and written exercises, participants take stock of their personality, their sense of self-worth and their skills to deal with growing up and finding their vocation.
“As we began working with young people at our conferences,” Petro said, “we realized something was missing from how we were mentoring youth. They would have this great experience at an event, but after we left, they would forget key concepts that we covered or just lose motivation to keep at them.”
Petro realized that youth needed mentors to continue the mentoring. In 2010 he and a business partner, Marichiel Ewert, founded Mpowered You, a company designed to work alongside Mpowered Youth to select, train and coach youth mentors. Those wishing to become youth mentors can apply online (MPoweredYouth.com) and are subjected to a rigorous background check. If someone qualifies for the Mpower You mentor program, they pay a fee for a 12-week training course and are given a website with ongoing support through the company.
Petro does not hesitate to point out that part of the purpose of Mpowered You is to teach its members how to make a living as a youth mentor. The Mpowered You system contains a variety of financial incentives for its mentors. For example, a mentor receives compensation for other mentors that he signs on to Mpowered You. Likewise, a mentor is paid a fee for holding a mentoring event or selling Mpowered You merchandise.
Asked if he thought that this multilevel marketing structure might taint the mentoring process, Petro answered, “No, not at all.”
“First, there is nothing wrong with making a living at what you love to do and are good at. Second, this type of system is commonly used by groups like the Knights of Columbus.
“We want our mentors to be the best trained and the most motivated out there. People get into youth mentoring because they love it. They will stay in it if they know they are making a difference and can make a living at it.”
Though the programs are relatively new, Petro has ambitious goals for both Mpowered Youth and Mpowered You.
“My aim,” Petro said, “is to create a tidal wave-like movement of inspired and skilled mentors who will help youth to realize the great plan that God has for them and then become stewards of their community and our world.”
Jeff Gardner is the CEO of Catholic Media International.