2014-09-25 / Front Page

Successful Mentor Program in Jeopardy

By Pat Blakeley

Third grader Molly Warnick and mentor Alyssa Palumbo plan for the new school year at the Newport Mentor Program kickoff breakfast at Pell. Third grader Molly Warnick and mentor Alyssa Palumbo plan for the new school year at the Newport Mentor Program kickoff breakfast at Pell. The air at Pell School was electric Wednesday as kids and adults filed into the library, waving and looking for a favorite familiar face. It wasn’t the first day of school; it was the annual kickoff for the Newport Mentor Program, with returning students reconnecting with their school year mentors after the summer break. For children new to the program, it was the first chance they got to meet their mentors. There were smiles and hugs all around – and even shy hellos from the first-timers. Brighter futures are on the horizon for these lucky students.

The Newport Mentor Program, begun in Newport a decade ago with a handful of kids and volunteers, has been quietly making a difference in the future of the city – one child at a time. The program started at Cranston-Calvert School in 2004, pairing adult volunteers with at-risk and disadvantaged youth.

Starlyn Waters, a third grader at Pell, shows mentor Meg Arpin her new school supplies. This is the second year of their partnership. Starlyn Waters, a third grader at Pell, shows mentor Meg Arpin her new school supplies. This is the second year of their partnership. Mentors offer friendship and help the children realize the value of education and good decisionmaking from a young age. They do not provide help with schoolwork; they serve as confidants and role models for the youngsters, and are someone the kids can count on to be in their corner – no matter what.

Arlene McNulty, former president and CEO of Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership, offered welcoming remarks and was almost as excited as the kids. “The start of the school year is always so full of promise, with new goals and fresh ideas on the table. It’s wonderful to see the enthusiasm.”

As exciting as the kickoff was, it was underscored by financial concerns. The project is currently unfunded and will have to shut down by the end of December if it does not receive the $25,000 required to run the program for the entire school year.

The local program was originally funded by the Department of Justice, with federal monies provided to the state and then to Newport. The federal dollars dried up three years ago, and last year the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership funded the $25,000 budget. In order for the project to continue it needs to be self-sustaining, says Nichole Lewis, who runs the local organization. The group is waiting to hear about grant funding.

The Newport Mentor Program gives an excellent rate of return, McNulty says, with 100 percent of mentees’ teachers and parents reporting improvements in academic performance, test scores, self-esteem, school attendance and social interaction.

Mentors meet with students weekly during the school day for one hour. They discuss school, personal issues and goals that the student has. Mentors provide a steady presence, guidance, and support. They also show the children that they have options in their lives and that the decisions they make will determine their future, something that is not always part of their at-home discussions.

This year, 54 mentors will serve 84 students. One-third of the mentees are at Pell Elementary and two-thirds are at Thompson. The majority of the middle school students formed the relationship when they were in the elementary grades and the affiliation has continued. There is still a long waiting list of students, Lewis says, and they are desperately seeking mentors, particularly male volunteers.

Parents who sign their children up for the program just want the best for them, Lewis observes, and realize that dedicated people in the community can often make the difference in their child’s success in both school and society and can offer perspectives that they cannot. “Our mentors change the lives of their mentees,” she says. “But, it is about community, and it goes both ways.”

Mentor Barbara Shea has volunteered for seven years. “It has been a life changing experience for me,” she claims, and the relationships are dear to her.

Shea said she always wanted to be a mentor but never felt she could commit. She finally took the plunge in 2007 – and jumped in feet first. She was paired with second grader Isabella at Cranston-Calvert School and followed her to Thompson. The duo clicked from the start, and Isabella thrived on the added attention, so much so that her mother wrote to the program praising Shea. Shea was dumbfounded – and honored – to be selected as the Aquidneck Island Mentor of the Year at the end of her first year.

The bond between the pair was so strong, Shea says, that when the family moved to Middletown, she wanted to continue mentoring Isabella and went to Gaudet Middle School every week until she was in eighth grade.

Her commitment to the endangered program continues. “Our children are our most important resource, and we need to do whatever we can to help them – not just some, but every one of them. I know people will step up to help. This is going to be a great year – I can tell.”

To donate to the Newport Mentor Project online, visit mentorri.org and specify Newport. Checks may be mailed to Newport Mentor Program, P.O. Box 1274, Newport RI 02840.

For more information on the program or to volunteer, contact Nichole Lewis at 401-732-7700 x114 or nlewis@mentorri.org.

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