Yano Jones

As a young man growing up on the streets of North Omaha, Yano Jones was told he was a statistic and that he wasn’t smart enough to go to college. These messages were so pervasive that he believed them—until a mentor saw his potential and stepped up to refocus and inspire his life. Yano went on to become a successful college athlete and then returned to his hometown to become an educator and youth mentor who helps kids find their best possible place in the world.

How Yano Spreads His Hope
By being a positive youth mentor both on the job and in his free time. In his off hours, Yano leads the Red Zone Leadership Academy, a nonprofit organization that he launched in 2005. Together with a team of other former college and professional athletes, Yano mentors 25 promising high school athletes in the Omaha metro area each year. Red Zone Academy mentors prepare students for college success by teaching them how to take the discipline and dedication they learned on the field and use it in the classroom and in life.

Yano’s hope for the future
I want more people to understand that:

  • One-and-done youth programs don’t really help kids. It takes more than a workshop or an afternoon to make a difference in their lives.
  • Building a strong relationship is the secret to helping kids. If they know you really care, they will listen when you try to help them.
  • Kids need caring adults as they grow up and figure out who they want to be in life. One caring adult can make all the difference.

Yano’s Hope Messages
To adults who want to make a difference in the lives of kids:
“If you want to work with kids, you have to follow up on your promises. Otherwise, you can do more damage than if you had never tried to help because disappointment can kill their hopes and enthusiasm for the future. So be the adult who consistently shows up for them—that’s how you make a difference.”

To kids:
“Never give up on your dreams and whatever you need to do to make them your reality. You need to figure out the behaviors and actions that will get you there and then to commit to them. That’s how you will make it happen for yourself.”

Yano’s Favorite Hope Web Site:

About Yano
Yano is a Talent Advisor through Omaha’s innovative Avenue Scholars Program, which identifies smart but unsupported high school students who would otherwise almost make it to college. Yano actively mentors about 150 students each year, serving as their teacher, life coach, cheerleader and voice of reason. Whether he is critiquing their Facebook posts, attending performances, joining family dinners in the evenings or driving them home from team practices, Yano provides a special kind of intrusive support that says, “Hey, you matter. I am watching what you do. And you need to do your best, because someone cares—me.”

He lives in Omaha with his wife and their son and considers them the best evidence of his success in life.