Someone to Listen
Every year thousands of at-risk kids in Rhode Island could use an added adult presence in their lives as a sounding board. For the past two decades the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership has paired many of those school-age children with mentors during a critical time in their lives. Jim Hummel introduces us to some of them - and to the program.
For more information about the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership, click HERE.
The school day is barely underway at Winman Junior High in Warwick, but already there's a buzz in the cafeteria as a half a dozen students gather during first period for breakfast - this one with a holiday theme.
Right there with them, as they've been the entire semester, are volunteers with the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership - adults who meet once a week to talk, share and mainly listen to kids who could use another adult sounding board in their lives.
Schofield: ``That’s the beauty of having a mentor. Having that just non-judgmental person that can coach you through and give you some suggestions. Not that all kids follow those suggestions but knowing that they have that person in their corner can make all of the difference.''
Jo-Ann Schofield is president of the Mentoring Partnership, headquartered in Apponaug across from Warwick City Hall. The program began in 1990 with 10 children and 10 mentors in the Warwick schools. That eventually expanded to all 27 schools and now includes 200 children who have mentors across the city.
But the organization also trains others and has 60 programs reaching 5,500 children across Rhode Island -including this one at Thompson Middle School in Newport.
Schofield says it's a simple concept: make an investment in children who need it now and head off potential problems down the road.
Schofield: ``Truly to have mentoring as that proactive solution so that if we fast forward 10 or 20 years there wouldn’t be the need for some of the other non-profit organizations that currently exist because kids are making better choices and they're having better results.
Most mentors meet in a school setting for an hour a week to hang out and catch up. No books or homework assignments here.
Schofield: ``It’s more social, to be honest with you, than academic because if the child feels better about themselves they’re going to be more engaged in school and do better academically.
But it's not: let’s sit and do your homework – it’s not one more adult telling them what to do, but instead really exploring options for that child and really building the skills that the child needs to be successful.''
The Mentoring Partnership says kids with mentors are far less likely to use drugs and alcohol or to skip school.
Schobel: ``I think mentoring is the easiest thing you can do and probably one of the most important things you can do. It’s one hour a week. So if you eat lunch you can mentor.''
Doug Schobel joined the program more than a decade ago and has mentored a total of seven boys, including three currently.
Hummel: ``What was it that caught your eye.''
Doug Schobel: ``I hear a lot of people talking about the woes of society. I didn’t want to be somebody who talked about it. I wanted to be somebody who did something about it. We all need a helping hand….kids especially, and I have learned as much from the boys and the children I’ve mentored hopefully as much as they’ve learned from me.''
Luke Donovan: ``He’s fun to be around. He’s a good friend when you want to get away from school.''
Sixth-grader Luke Donovan has been meeting with Doug since he was in the first grade.
Luke Donovan: ``If there’s any problems that's going on I can talk to him. We just talk about stuff I’m interested.''
Doug Schobel: ``It’s been a joy to see him…to age. To see him mature, to see him go from this little quiet boy to now he is very gregarious, he is funny, he is hilarious. We laugh the whole time, really. He’s a friend.''
Midge McPeak met Carlo Monti eight years ago when Carlo was a sixth grader at Robertson Elementary School in Warwick. His mother had just died and Carlo was living with an aunt in Warwick. Midge continued as a mentor when Carlo went to Winman Junior High.
Midge McPeak: ``He was such an easy person, even at that age, to get along with; he’s so likeable. We just clicked.''
Hummel: ``Do you remember when you first met her?''
Carlo Monti: Yes, it was in this room, right over there once a week we’d meet and we just hit it off from the beginning.''
Midge McPeak: ``In my own life I had a number of adults who were supportive of me and they helped me along the way and I felt as though that’s part of giving back and if I could step up to the plate and help a child and encourage a child, let them know that anything was possible then that’s where I came from.''
Carlo Monti: ``We played games, she’d bring puzzles, arts and crafts, lunch, she’d bring lunch.''
Hummel: ``It was relaxed. Because I think a lot of people have the idea: I’ve got to be trained, I’ve got to do this, and really it’s not academic as much as much as just developing a relationship.''
Carlo Monti: Correct, more supportive and just someone to talk to and to tell you about your day and someone that’s there for you.''
Carlo is 20 now - enrolled at Johnson & Wales and holding down two jobs. He had not seen Midge for years.
Hummel: ``What do you think as you see him now?''
Midge McPeak: ``I am so proud of him – he’s such a fine young man. I had no doubt that he would get to that point – he believed in himself I think he saw the possibilities of what he could achieve and then he did achieve them.''
Schofield: ``We need mentors badly. We need folks that are willing to step to the plate and advocate for kids and to say, yes I can give an hour a week, with all of my priorities and everything that I do I can make that one hour a week commitment to help a child and in the process, I think, help themselves.''
Doug Schobel: ``It gives you perspective. As an adult with our lives as busy as they are you know I think it’s a point of reflection where you can actually sit down for an hour – they say it’s really important for a child to have a dedicated hour to them, to him or her. But equally important for the adults; you know that life is so busy that you can just sit back, relax and slow down to get more perspective. You know that's what helped with me.''
Midge McPeak: ``I think seeing the success of the children just...it just made me glow. They just need someone there that believes in them. And as a mentor you're in the school with them on a weekly basis. Parents don’t have that opportunity. So even if they have a wonderful family at home, they don't have the ability to have somebody there knowing what they’re doing on a daily basis, you know week-to-week basis.''
Schofield - who gave up being a mentor as she moved up he administrative ladder - has gone back to it again this year.
Schofield: ``The piece that most people don’t realize is how much it really does feed their own souls as much as yeah, oh gosh I have to drop everything I have to be here, in the long run if you step away from it, you miss it.''
In Warwick Jim Hummel for The Rhode Island Spotlight.