Mentors show kids a way out of troubled lives
Dwight Matthew's current mentee shows unusual promise.
"I have no doubt he's going to college," said Dwight Matthews, a State Farm Insurance agent. Mitch, a student at Alta Vista High School, has taken his SAT's, lifted his grades and toured universities. Mitch said he loves playing the piano and he appears to have a natural talent for playing and composing music, Matthews said.
"He told me he can start playing and he could forget he's playing," Matthews said. "There is something special about this man he has to share with this world. It would be a crime for him to not go all the way."
It's not always been easy for Mitch and "he's come a long away," Matthews said. Mitch was improving his grades in fits and starts before. Since having Matthews as his mentor the past few months, "I was able to boost my confidence a lot" as the time comes to apply for college, Mitch said.
"If you're doing good as a student but you've got nobody who cares if you do well or not, it wears on you," Mitch said. Matthews "makes me feel I'm not alone in the situation."
Matthews is one of 150 volunteers who mentor local teens, trained by Partners for New Generations, a Voice Holiday Fund recipient. He's been doing it for 13 years, mentoring teens one at a time.
Mitch said he regularly meets with Matthews at Chili's restaurant. Matthews begins every meeting with, "Hey Mitch, how's the grades?" On Monday they went Christmas shopping together.
"I've been mentoring young black men," Matthews said. "A lot of them are not even aware of what black professionals are doing, black families are doing. They see black athletes and entertainers, but a State Farm Insurance Agent? It's like, where does this come from?"
The problems are sometimes simple. "Sometimes they put too many things on their plate," Matthews explains. "Sometimes you have to take certain things off your plate to get what you want."
A mentee's problems can range from a lack of focus to full blown crisis. Matthews saw one mentee abandoned by his mother and another who was the only person in his household with a job. The situations are sometimes too much for Matthews' mentoring to overcome, but he continues because the students do benefit from it, whether or not those benefits are something tangible, like going to college.
The goal outlined for mentors in the program is not to shape a mentee to the mentor's values, but to simply show that they care about the teen.
"The teachers are trying to help them but they just can't take on each kid as an individual, there are too many," Matthews said. The kids "just want somebody to pay attention to what they are doing."
Among the program's success stories is Pulitzer Prize winner Antonio Vargas, who was a mentee of Rich Fisher, his principal at Mountain View High School. Matthews has seen several of his mentees go on to college. For many, it's a big deal just to graduate high school.
Anytime Mitch feels like giving up on applying to colleges, Matthews urges him to get through it, telling him stories about his own life and times when it seemed like it was raining one day but he remained hopeful the sun would shine the next day. "He pushes me to do my best," Mitch said.
Mitch said he's planning to study software engineering and minor in music, and hopefully be able to combine the two interests in a career creating software for musicians.
More information about the program, which is always seeking new mentors, can be found at pngmvla.org.
E-mail Daniel DeBolt at email@example.com