Amparo Macias hated math and had a 1.14 GPA to prove it.
But all that changed when she joined Saturday Leadership, a Montgomery County mentoring program. Macias spent three hours each week with her 19-year-old mentor, studying a variety of subjects, especially math.
“My mentor was always on my case, but it was a good pressure,” Macias said.
Macias, now a junior at Olney’s Sherwood High School, has a 3.71 GPA and renewed interest in math.
Only 3 percent of America’s 13.6 million at-risk youth is lucky enough to be mentored.
Mentoring has recently moved to the forefront as a means to help young people whose lives might otherwise take a bad turn. Politicians on national, state and local levels are touting the benefits of different generations forming mutually beneficial relationships.
In April, President Clinton, four former presidents and retired General Colin Powell met in Philadelphia for the President’s Summit for America’s Future. There, they challenged the nation to help 2 million children receive five fundamental resources by 2000. They include:
* an ongoing relationship with a caring adult
* safe and structured activities during out of school hours
* a healthy start for a healthy life
* marketable skills through effective education
* opportunities to give back through community service
Maryland’s goal — 38,000 children — was much in mind last week as more than 1,200 youth workers convened in Baltimore for the Maryland’s Promise: Alliance for Youth Statewide Summit.
“The challenge for each of you in your county delegations is to figure out how many kids, how we reach them and how they are going to get those resources,” said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, co-chair of Maryland’s Promise. “We must make sure we can reach to every part of the state and that no part should go untouched.”
Through workshops, participants learned how to organize, fund, implement and gauge the success of local volunteer assistance programs. In the afternoon, attendees were broken into counties to discuss how the ideas garnered from the workshops would best work in their areas.
But many at the conference identified already successful mentoring programs and commitments to helping youth across Maryland.
Richard Grow, a senior at Queen Anne’s County High School, fought his school’s administration for nine months to start a mentoring program that pairs upperclassmen with ninth graders.
“It was a journey to test our will,” Grow said. “We want to help others and give kids an overall role model.”
In Prince George’s County, Romenita Henderson is trying to reach children through her affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. As the minister of music and youth, Henderson said she has seen how helping raise children – especially African-American children – can benefit in the long run.
“Parents just can’t do it by themselves for a variety of reasons,” Henderson said. “Mentors are like extended families, they pick up the support where the parents are absent.”
Somerset, Worchester and Wicomico counties have joined forces in a mentoring program called SHORECORPS/Partnership for Adolescents on the Lower Shore. PALS’ 35 mentors log more than 1,700 volunteer hours a year helping children.
“We provide support for those who have gone astray or just need help,” said Alice Dove, senior elementary education major at Salisbury State University. “It is usually a situation we have gone through, so we can help them to overcome whatever it might be.”
In Allegany County, officials are seeing an overall growth in youth volunteerism. They attribute much of it to the state’s requirement that a student complete 75 hours of community service before graduating from high school.
“The younger kids are seeing their older brothers and sisters in service learning, which is then filtered into elementary schools,” said Karen King, service learning coordinator for the Allegany Board of Education. “As we continue getting young people exposed to serving others, we are seeing tremendous growth in volunteers.”
Linda Stewart, executive director of Baltimore Mentoring Partnership, said participants in the group’s Project RAISE or Education Opportunity Program experience a 60 to 65 percent high school graduation rate, compared to the city’s average of 20 to 30 percent.
“Our goal is to get children in meaningful mentoring relationships that will help them to become self-sufficient,” Stewart said. “Anyone that has gotten anywhere realizes they had help along the way – we are that help.”
Others are trying to start mentoring programs.
In Anne Arundel County, the Harundale Youth and Family Service Center is applying for a grant from the Abell Foundation to pair volunteers from Anne Arundel Community College with about 10 Old Mill Middle School students.
“There are so many kids with single-parent families where the mom is working three jobs just to make ends meet,” said Elizabeth Allen, adolescent family counselor at the center. “Kids need an older person, and more importantly, need a role model to do things with them.”