Monday, August 10, 2009

Be a Mentor

"Be a mentor," said Daniel. "Be a mentor," he repeated at a whisper.

Those are the parting words of Daniel Ramos, a gentleman I met while on an Alternative Student Break in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, in March of this year. He is program director at Children of the City, a community organization serving underprivileged families in the inner-city communities of Southwest Brooklyn. Their services include trauma intervention, counseling, an after-school and summer program, courtroom and legal advocacy, social work, guardianship, financial counseling, youth mentoring, and other as-needed services.

As volunteers for a week, 13 of my classmates and I were asked to help with home visits. Children of the City volunteers visit close to one thousand children every single month! They are one of the only community organizations in New York to regularly schedule in-home visits. In the same way that Children of the City expects youth to visit their center, youth can expect Children of the City to visit their center; their home.

I could go on and on with my impressions of Children of the City and its staff. Their dedication to the people of Sunset Park is remarkable. Daniel is a particularly thoughtful man to whom I am eternally grateful for sharing his time and insights. That is why I find his last words to be so important. Of all the wisdom he shared over many hours, he chose to end with, "be a mentor."

Now, I wish to make the same declaration to you. Be a mentor.

When you are a mentor, you show a student you care. You show this by attendance, by your interest in what they do, what they are doing in school, who they are and what is important to them. You are a guide. Your purpose is not to shape a youth to your values, but to help them be everything they have the potential to be.

If you're in Chicago, use our Program Locator to find a program that fits your demands for time and location. You're bound to find something! There are more than 200 tutor/mentor programs in the Chicago area! If you aren't in Chicago, reach out to your network, browse our links to volunteer referral web sites, or do a simple Google search.

Your time is valuable. Two hours a week can make a difference. In the same time that it takes to watch a movie, you can mentor a child. Please consider it.

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