- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2002

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., a big sister for Cherie Gardner, 14, of Northwest. She says it takes two people to guide a child in the right direction.
"I wanted to give back a part of my time to a young lady to help build her," Ms. Eugene-Murry says. "I'm giving back to the community for the love of children."
Cherie, who recently graduated from MacFarland Middle School in Northwest, says her relationship with her Big Sister is special because she doesn't have any older siblings.
"I like that if I want to go somewhere I can call her and we hang out," Cherie says. "Sometimes, she'll call me and ask me if I want to go with her to the mall. We have our girl outing, and it's fun."
Kauthar Umar of Silver Spring, a mentor with Community Bridges there, says she mentors Sarajeane DuBuche, 12, of Silver Spring, because of the positive influence role models have on children. The nonprofit organization, which operates in the Washington area only, offers leadership-empowerment programs for girls from low-income and immigrant families.
"I remember being young and looking up to certain people who were my mentors," Ms. Umar says. "I remember how important that was."

Former Sen. Harris Wofford, from Pennsylvania, who is chairman of America's Promise, The Alliance for Youth, says mentoring is a way of serving others. The national organization based in Alexandria, an alliance of more than 500 organizations whose founding chairman was Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, began in 1997 in Philadelphia as an outgrowth of the Presidents' Summit for America's Future. It seeks to build the character and competence of the nation's youth. Mr. Wofford says President Bush has asked all Americans to spend 4,000 hours of their lives serving the community, which could include developing a meaningful relationship with a child.
"A mentor can play a very crucial role in the life of a young person," Mr. Wofford says. "There are still millions and millions of kids that still need mentors."
Robert A. Williams, coordinator for the mentoring ministry at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Northwest, which has programs affiliated with America's Promise, says 22 young people are mentored through his church. He says his mentors help the youth in both spiritual and practical matters, such as good hygiene, hard work, avoiding violence and sexual abstinence.
"We teach them that any problems you have, you take them to God," Mr. Williams says. "You don't try to handle it yourself. Be in prayer about it. We teach them self-respect and to have respect for others."
Mr. Williams says that all people who have been successful have had people assist them along the way.
"I'm trying to get more responsible adults to stand in the gap," Mr. Williams says. "It's my prayer that more men and women will step up."
Robert Steele, 60, of Alexandria, who is a mentor with the Grandfather's Group that is based at the Campagna Center in Alexandria, says that at first he was unsure about whether he would be a good mentor but he sees that his worries were unnecessary.
The Grandfather's Group is a project of the Northern Virginia Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of the Corporation for National and Community Service. The corporation's national headquarters is in Northwest. The program, which has 15 mentors, matches older men with fatherless boys in grades one through six who are looking for mentors. Its focus is on the black community. Mr. Steele mentors Charles White, 9, of Alexandria, who will start fifth grade in the fall at Riverside Elementary School in Alexandria.
"I'm having as much fun as the boy is having," Mr. Steele says. "We play miniature golf. We go to basketball games. We go to the movies. When there is an activity at his school that he participates in, I try to make the activity. I feel like I'm a cheerleader, cheering him in the right direction."
• • •
Although fun activities bond a mentor and student, helping youth with school work is an important part of mentoring, says Karin Walser of Arlington, founder of Horton's Kids Inc. The nonprofit organization focuses on local work and keeps an office in the District. It provides a wide range of social services, such as tutoring, which takes place in the Rayburn House Office Building in Southwest on Monday nights and in the Anacostia branch of the District of Columbia Public Library in Southeast on Tuesday nights. It also sponsors outings on Sunday afternoons.
In 1989, Ms. Walser was inspired to create the group when she met children who lived in a the Capitol City Inn, at one time Washington's largest homeless shelter. The youngsters were pumping gas at a gas station for tips. She decided she would take the children on weekly outings. Today, her organization benefits more than 200 children in the District's Anacostia neighborhood.
"Mentors can provide one other voice besides the school or parents telling them to stay in school and stay out of trouble," Ms. Walser says. "They show them the possibilities of life and how to make those possibilities a reality."
Jeff Cohen, executive director of Mentors Inc. in Northwest, says his mentoring relationship allowed him to encourage Omar Bugg-Bey, 18, of Northeast to attend college. The recent graduate of Tech World Public Charter High School in Southwest plans to attend the University of the District of Columbia in the fall. Mentors Inc. matches high school students with volunteer mentors that help the youths plan for life after high school.
"It's fun to look at things through the eyes of a young person," Mr. Cohen says. "Everything is possible. His major problems are minor to me. When I go home at the end of the day, I feel like I did something that made a difference."


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