hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

February 8, 2012

Adults needed to mentor students

Effort helped 30 kids in 3 years

By Tim McCarthy

Three years later, the lives of more than 30 children have been changed for the better.

But for the good work to continue, more adults must step up to help young people.

The Haverhill Youth Mentoring Network continues into 2012 with a greater demand for mentors.

Nancy London, executive director of the program, said at least three children at Tilton Elementary School are on a waiting list for mentors.

"The teachers informed me they have many more kids they could be referring to the program," she said. "The demand is definitely there."

An initiative combining the skills of Team Haverhill, Mass Mentoring, United Way and Haverhill public schools, the mentoring network asks adults to donate one hour a week to meet with child from Tilton enrolled in the program.

Program leaders stress the hour isn't simply to provide help with homework, but an opportunity to help children build positive relationships with adults other than their parents and teachers.

"The kids all feel like they have someone special in their life that cares about them," London said of the impact on participating children. "They can feel like they're the center of attention for an hour each week."

The program started in 2010 with 17 mentors and the same number of children. As students graduated from Tilton to the neighboring Consentino Middle School, the mentors have followed them and continued building their relationships.

"My experience has been ... that mentors stay through to the end," said John Michitson, city council president and mentoring network steering committee member. "It all depends upon how rich of a relationship they establish with the child."

Michitson said one mentor took the time to root on her student during a middle school basketball game alongside the student's parents. Simple actions like that, he said, can make a difference for a lifetime.

Mentors "can use any skill they have," Michitson said. "You don't need to be a rocket scientist to participate."

The program is funded through a combination of private and corporate donations. Although all mentors are volunteers, money raised goes toward events and activities such as a trip to the Museum of Science last winter.

Unfortunately, Michitson said, the program didn't qualify for a grant last fall and will have to carefully examine its budget in the coming year.

"The whole goal from the start was to build a sustainable program," he said. "Now we have to work again on the funding piece."

Those interested in taking part in the program must be willing to commit at least one year to the program, undergo training and meet with the child before or after school or during the school's lunch break.

"We've got professionals that come during their lunch hour to stay-at-home moms," said Tilton Principal Mary Beth Maranto. "We're not looking for high school kids. We're looking for someone who has wisdom to share their life experiences with kids.''

More information on volunteer opportunities and making donations is available at teamhaverhill.org/hymn.