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January Is National Mentoring Month

Send opinion pieces and letters to the editor to william.laforme@patch.com.

The following is an opinion piece from State Rep. Paul Brodeur:

This January is National Mentoring Month. It is the result of collaboration between the Harvard School of Public Health, the National Mentoring Partnership, and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Since 2002, organizations across America have devoted 4 weeks to promoting the ideals behind mentoring. This year, the theme is “Mentoring Works”. Here, in our district, that phrase is embraced and put into practice every day.

In Melrose, the Alliance Against Violence runs a program called Melrose CARES. The program’s goal is to pair adults from the community with middle-school students. These volunteers offer guidance and support, becoming mentors to those boys and girls who need one. Melrose CARES begins the year with six weeks of group meetings, after which mentors and mentees meet one-on-one on a monthly basis. The program has been running since 2005. In that time, Melrose has seen reaped the benefits of the program.

The students who take part in Melrose CARES are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, less likely to skip class, and less likely to behave violently towards their peers. Their relationships with classmates, teachers, and parents improve as well. In short, many of the children who enter the program are better for it.

Wakefield has an equally successful program in Wakefield Adult Mentors (WAM). Operating since 2002, WAM brings volunteers together with students of any age enrolled in the Wakefield Public School system. The mentorship helps those students “on the verge of success”. These are students who, for whatever reason, have difficulties with their schooling. Mentors help these students to socialize better, cope with personal or family matters, and succeed academically. The mentors and mentees meet once a week and the students can remain in the program until graduation. By devoting one hour a week, these volunteers can make a difference in a young person’s life.

School years are a critical time for academic, social, and emotional development in a person’s life. Not only do they prepare students academically, but they also prepare them for life’s challenges. These are years dominated by hopes and fears about the future. It is only natural, then, that students look for role models wherever they can. With programs like Melrose CARES and WAM, our communities can ensure that those role models are positive ones.

The term “mentor” comes from Homer’s Odyssey. While Odysseus is off wandering the ancient world, his son is looked after by a kind and wise old man named Mentor. In the father’s absence, Mentor provides a steady, guiding hand. His name has entered the lexicon as a way to describe any older person who serves as a surrogate parent.

However, not every mentor has to be a wise old man. Children are not always looking for the ultimate answers to the ultimate questions. All that is needed sometimes is a person to talk to. That is the kind of service that Melrose CARES and WAM provide: an adult who will listen and offer help – sometimes nothing more than a sympathetic ear - to a struggling kid.

The tragedy in Newtown has shaken us all, and many people have asked what they can do in the wake of these senseless shootings.  Sometimes even adults feel powerless to act. We can feel like an issue is too big or too complicated or that nothing will ever change.  I don’t believe that.

We are at the beginning of what I hope will be a broad national debate over how to make our communities safer, but there is one thing you can do now - volunteer to make a difference in one person’s life by becoming a mentor.  The need for mentors has never been clearer. The world can often be a dark and difficult place, and young people can naturally feel like retreating from the world. We need adults who will engender in kids a desire to strike out on their own. We need adults who will fill children with hope and confidence. This is why I am in full support of organizations like Melrose CARES, WAM, and initiatives like National Mentoring Month. They are an excellent way to keep our children optimistic about the future and to show them how much we value them.

Best wishes for a happy and safe new year.

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