Mentoring Benefits; Programs Match Youth, Adults for Spiritual, Practical learning.(LIFE - SCHOOLS)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 17, 2002 | Go to article overview

Mentoring Benefits; Programs Match Youth, Adults for Spiritual, Practical learning.(LIFE - SCHOOLS)


Byline: Jen Waters, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Lamont Guillory looks up to his big brother the way a son admires his father. For the past five years, Lamont, who lives in Southeast, has been mentored by Kwesi Rollins of Northeast through Big Brothers Big

Sisters of the National Capital Area, which is based in Lanham. Lamont, who is being raised by a single mother, says Mr. Rollins has been a positive male role model in lieu of his biological father.

"When people ask me, 'Is that your dad?,' I say, 'Yes, that's my dad,'" says 14-year-old Lamont, who will be a sophomore this fall at Eastern Senior High School in Northeast.

"I consider him my father. He gives me advice about how to use brains instead of violence. He also taught me about proper etiquette and how to be a gentleman instead of using street slang."

Because the youth of today face multiple challenges, mentoring can be the difference between their falling behind and their moving ahead. Students with mentors usually receive a much-needed boost in self-esteem, which helps them reach their educational and social goals.

Mr. Rollins says that mentoring Lamont has been a humbling experience. He appreciates seeing how he has made a difference in the simplest areas of Lamont's life, such as telling him to eat more slowly.

"I told him, 'Lamont, you eat like there's no tomorrow,'" Mr. Rollins says. "I remember being told the same thing when I was his age."

Although Lamont may have benefited from Mr. Rollins' wisdom, Mr. Rollins, who works as project director of the Institute for Educational Leadership in Northwest, says Lamont has given him more than he could have imagined. Mr. Rollins is considering mentoring other students, but now he mentors only Lamont.

"He's somebody who will be in my life forever," Mr. Rollins says. "I'm very proud of him. He's a good kid."

* * *

Paul Bliss, president of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the National Capital Area, says Lamont is one of more than 3,000 children being mentored in the Washington area.

Mr. Bliss says the organization was founded in 1949 with the mission of improving the lives of District children one child at a time. Since then, the National Capital group has matched more than 50,000 children with carefully screened and trained mentors.

A study completed in 1995 by Public/Private Ventures in Philadelphia found that a Big Brother-Big Sister mentoring relationship is extremely effective in preventing risky behavior among youth. For instance, children who received three to five hours per week of mentoring were about 70 percent less likely than their peers to use drugs. As the nation's premier mentoring association, the national organization made about 220,500 matches through its 510 branches in 2001.

The research also found that about 64 percent of children mentored through the organization developed a more positive attitude toward school: About 58 percent achieved higher grades; about 60 percent improved their relationships with adults and their parents; and about 64 percent developed higher levels of self-esteem.

"We have found that a Big Brother or Big Sister may very well be one of the few adults with whom children can discuss problems and develop problem-solving skills," Mr. Bliss says.

Despite the success of mentoring, Mr. Bliss says he struggles to find more adults to volunteer their time with youth. In the Washington area, about 500 children ages 8 to 14 are awaiting a Big Brother or Big Sister. Mr. Bliss says about 90 percent of those on the waiting list are boys.

"Most single-parent homes are female-headed households," Mr. Bliss says. "Many mothers are looking for a male volunteer for their son."

However, teen-age girls who live in single-parent homes also benefit from a mentor, says Zondra Eugene-Murry of Fort Washington, Md. …

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