‘The children are our future.’ We often say those words, but what if a child takes a wrong turn in life, becomes ensnared in crime, drug-addiction or suicide and self-destruction? If children are truly our future, then we adults owe them a helping hand in shaping it. We can do so through mentoring.
January is National Mentoring Month, a time of public awareness and promotion of the benefits to volunteering to be a part of young people’s lives. As a children’s advocate and founder of the KOP Mentoring Network here in Palm Beach County, I believe every young person needs a caring adult mentor to provide encouragement and support to succeed in school and in life. Many of us have the power to truly impact their future by simply showing up as a caring friend and mentor.
We have seen the benefits of mentoring in addressing our schools’ graduation rates, which, have been increasing in recent years here in South Florida and across the nation. In what can only be described as good news, the Palm Beach County School District again has a graduation rate that has outperformed other large school districts in Florida. More public-school students are graduating than ever as the district’s graduation rate rose from 90 percent in 2017 to 91.7 percent in 2018.
The improvement is due in part to adult volunteers who have come forward to help poorly performing students stay on track academically. Nationally, one-third of all high schools provide mentors to their students, which amounts to one in 10 high school students, according to an U.S. Department of Education analysis. The study showed “some significant evidence” that suggests programs that provide high school students adult volunteers may help students stay in school.
At KOP Mentoring Network, we see the fruits of mentoring in our Oratorical, STRE2AM2, and Wealth Building and Entrepreneurship programs. Some of our students come from homes that have incarcerated parents or guardians. Without intervention these children are more likely to follow that same path. While our mentors help build student academic skills, the underlying theme for us is making our students see that someone cares enough to be there and expects the best from them.
Our mentors are ordinary people who serve as advisers and teachers. They are motivators and role models, who believe in the students we work with. We see the potential and work hard in helping students get to where they want to go. The youngsters participating in the KOP Monitoring Network are less likely to use drugs and alcohol and less likely to skip school. They are more confident in their academic performance, and they are better able to get along with their families. In short, our mentors are making a difference, a real impact in the lives of the youngsters they serve.
The children are our future, but to quote another well-known adage about the harvest being plentiful but the laborers are few. There are still far too many of our young people who lack the support and the tools to succeed in school and in life. Despite the best efforts of the many men and women who serve as mentors and the agencies that support them, much more can be accomplished with the help of more dedicated volunteers. It only takes one caring mentor to shape a child’s future.
- Ron Allen is founder and CEO of the KOP Mentoring Network.