I ran into an impressive group of high school girls from north Minneapolis at the Mall of America on Saturday with designs on being car mechanics, teachers, veterinarians, doctors, computer jockeys, digital-media producers and lawyers.

"I have a vision of my future that helps me stay on track," said Caprice Whimper, 16, a student at Dunwoody Academy, a charter school. "I want to be an 'A' student. And I want to be an 'OB-GYN' doctor. I take care of young siblings. And I always have wanted to help women and kids."

Teara Hinton, 14, another North Side resident and student at Armstrong High in Plymouth, also envisions a medical career.

"My aunt is a nurse," Hinton said. "I want to be a doctor, a pediatrician, and work in the city with kids."

The 22 members of "Project DIVA," a mentoring organization involving girls at Dunwoody Academy and New Salem Baptist Church, shared their stories through video presentations they created and showed at WIRED 2020, an all-day convocation of hundreds of teenagers, business mentors and high-tech and environmental exhibitors who came together to advance kids and promote science, technology, engineering and math.

"This has been a great project," said George Johnson, 55, a veteran broadcast and Internet executive who most recently started www.TelAVision.tv and who worked with the Project DIVA girls on Saturdays to develop and produce their digital-vision statements. "There's just too much fear and negativity in the world, much of it on television. I've worked with a class at [private] Breck School, at the Red Wing Correctional Facility and with these girls.

"These kids all have the same response. They know what they want -- a successful future."

And I have never met a successful person, whether a laborer, an educator or a business executive, who did not have at least one caring adult in her life as a teen.

"I had aunts and other women after my mother got sick when I was about 12," said Neda Kellogg, 37, the founder of two-year-old Project DIVA and who works at Dunwoody, a charter school affiliated with the Dunwoody College of Technology. "In Minneapolis, statistics show that suicide, depression, pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates are extremely high among youth between the ages of 14 and 19. As well, our poverty rate in the next generation is climbing at an alarming rate. This signifies to me that there is a high need for genuine conversations and interaction with our babies."

And "DIVA," which stands for "Dignity, Integrity, Virtue and Availability," tries to expose its members to speakers and mentors from business and other walks of life and incorporates journal writing, e-mentoring and even a few internships that help young people connect school, work, community and success.

"My father raised us after my mom was sick," recalled Kellogg, who grew up in Omaha. "He was a strong spiritual presence. He also was a bus driver and he worked a lot. My mentor was Aunt Denise. She was a realist and she believed in having a plan. Plan A and B.

"If you have a plan and if you believe, you can get through the storm."

Mai-Anh Kapanke, vice president of the Mentoring Partnership, an umbrella organization that supports numerous Minnesota mentor organizations, said the "downward economy" of late has reduced the number of adult mentors in the Twin Cities area. And some companies have cut back on financial support.

"In-kind support has been through the roof because many believe we need to continue to be forward-thinking and invest in kids," she said.

To that end, the WIRED 2020 event was the brainchild of Mentoring Partnership, the Minnesota Business Partnership, Science Museum of Minnesota, Minnesota High Tech Association, the city of Minneapolis and a couple of dozen other outfits, including Gage Marketing, GE, Qwest, Best Buy, Sierra Bravo, Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association and Parsons Electric.

Hats off to dozens of employees of these and other organizations, including Gustavus Adolphus College, who dedicated a sunny Saturday to connect kids, green technology and a promising future. Mentoring is a low-cost, high-return investment that yields high dividends for everybody.

There are more than 100 mentoring organizations in the Twin Cities. You'll find most of them at Mentoring Partnership, www.mentoringworks.org.

And Kellogg's Project DIVA would love to hear from women who might be able to spend a couple of hours, now and then, with a girl headed for success.

For more information, go to www.projectdivas.com.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • nstanthony@startribune.com