Sunday, January 29, 2012

2012-01-29 "Agencies in Solano Mentor Collaborative seek adults to serve as positive role models" by Sarah Rohrs from "Vallejo Times Herald"
Working and going to college, Donnie Valderrama, 30, doesn't have much time to spare. But, no matter what, he always has an hour a week to give one 13-year-old Vallejo boy.
For more than a year, he and Claude Kirkwood have met Sunday afternoons for an hour of baseball or football practice. Sometimes they go out to eat, or they work on the teen's homework together.
But far more is going on below the surface.
Valderrama is the boy's mentor. As such, he gives the teen a consistent, positive and strong male role model in his life where he has none.
As some youth face significant challenges -- poverty, bullying, crime, a high drop-out rate and parents behind bars -- mentors can make a big difference in the lives of countless children and teens, several agency representatives said.
Fighting Back Partnership and the Solano Mentor Collaborative -- an umbrella organization of 22 agencies of churches, schools, sports groups and others -- is striving to match mentors with struggling youth and provide a lifeline for many, representatives said.
"Vallejo is one of the hardest hit areas in the Bay Area" in the recession, said Deborah James, recently retired Solano County probation officer and board member for Teen Connection, an agency in the collaborative.
Likewise, in the last five years, Teen Connection founder Ivonne Torres-Malave said she's worked with many youngsters who "have no self-esteem, no self-respect, and no adult guidance."
"It's like they are lost," she added.
The collaboration is working with many youth now, but more are waiting in the wings.
Agencies served 717 youth last year and worked with about 175 adult mentors, but that is not nearly enough to meet the demand, representatives said.
Some 200 more mentors are needed to make a match with youth on waiting lists.
Those who work in youth organizations cite a big need for adults willing to spend one hour a week serving as a mentor, or positive role model for children aged 4-18.
"A lot of the time, the young people we work with don't have one hour a week from an adult. They are in chaos all around them. Just that in and of itself -- a fresh person connecting with a young person -- gives them more than they have," Fighting Back Partnership mentor program coordinator Najla Barance said.
Male volunteer mentors are especially needed as many children coming in to the programs lack fathers or strong adult male figures in their lives.
Young men teamed up with male mentors often learn basic "guy things" such as how to tie a tie, play sports, use tools, change oil in a car or make repairs around the house, they said.
While mentors may find themselves dealing with tough issues, it's not all serious. Some enjoyable activities can involve bike rides, taking walks, doing arts and crafts, playing sports or job shadowing. Fighting Back also arranges for outings and field trips to baseball games and other activities.
Valderrama stepped up to mentor after he figured wisdom gleaned from his childhood could help another youth with similar issues. He went through the required training and joined the Children of Promise Engaged (COPE) program which finds mentors for youth whose parents are incarcerated.
If they go out to eat during the time together, Valderrama said also helps Claude with table manners. He said he tries to instill in the teen a sense of responsibility, importance of being on time, being respectful and taking things seriously.
For Claude it's fun and "like having an uncle or brother." Without his mentor, he said he likely "wouldn't be doing anything -- just hanging out and watching television."
Raising the teen, Claude's aunt Monique Sims said her family has few men and she sought out mentoring opportunities to fill the void. She said it's has been good for Claude who is smart, does well in school and hasn't gotten into trouble.
"Having someone consistent means a lot to Claude," she said.
Meanwhile, Valderrama said he always feels good after his hour with Claude. "You learn about yourself as well as the other person. There's rewards in that," he said.
More adults should step up to help youth and the community, Valderrama said.
Reggie Russell, a Yo! Ball Sports coach and mentor, agrees. Whether they realize it or not, all adults serve as mentors or role models for children, he said.
 The biggest gift they can give to a child is their time, and skills needed to be a good mentor are simple ones, Russell said.
"The basic part is you listen and you support them not with judgment but with your time," Russell said. "Children need someone they can talk to."
The youth sports group is teamed up with SEAL (Self Empowered Attitudes for Life,) a mentoring program founded by Vincent Woodard and designed to increase academic achievement, self-esteem and life opportunities.
While many programs involve pairing up one adult with one child, Yo! Ball and SEAL also offer group mentoring sessions. They often revolve around "What if?" questions -- What if someone offered them drugs? or what if they were being bullied? Russell said.
Others in the community are aiming high to help youth. Brandon McGrue of the Bey Development Center (Building Effective Youth Development) offers mentoring programs in local schools, but he is also pursuing a vision of providing Vallejo with a state-of-the-art youth center.
To accomplish that, McGrue said he is raising funds and exploring avenues to buy the former Walmart on Sonoma Boulevard and turn it into a youth center.
Mentoring youth in the Griffin Church of Christ in North Vallejo, McGrue said he and his wife saw a "huge need" for mentors, after school programs and other youth services.
But just as the need for services increases, the collaborative is facing funding cuts as its $500,000 Office of Juvenile, Justice and Delinquency Prevention for mentor services runs out this year.
As such, donors to sponsor a mentor/ mentee relationship, or fund training sessions, field trips or other services are being sought.
Regardless of the funding, McGrue, who recently left his full-time job to pursue his dream, and others said they will continue to help youth through mentoring.
"They need a place where they won't be judged and people will listen and help them," Barance said.

How to help -
The Solano Mentor Collaborative of Fighting Back Partnership represents organizations with youth mentoring programs.
Fighting Back staff members can connect mentor volunteers with youth.
To volunteer, call Najla Barance at (707) 648-4163 or email
To contribute, contact Susan Schoenrock at (707) 553-7267.
For more details, visit

Collaborative partners include the following:
* Bay Area Counseling & Mediation
* Bey Development Center
* Camp Fire Golden Empire Council
* Children's Nurturing Project - Baby Coach
* Community Resources Support Center
* Continentals of Omega Boys and Girls Club
* Day Reporting Center
* Foster a Dream
* Good Samaritan Missionary Baptist Church
* Children of Promise Engaged
* Teen Connection
* Ladies in Training & Emerging Gentlemen
* Ministries of Praise
* The Parent Movement
* Soaring Eagles Leadership Academy
* Tutoring for Kids
* Vallejo Faith Organization
* Ninth grade academy mentoring program
* Yo! Ball Sports/SEAL
* Yippie Foundation

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