Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mentoring . . . thoughts from a college paper

For a course not so very long ago, I had to write a simple little paper. (note, this is actually the unfinished rough draft, hahahaha!) Nothing profound, mind, except that maybe... just maybe... it will resonate with the reader in some way... I just found it on my harddrive and decided to post it here. There is a group in our community working hard to have a YMCA presence in town, and I'm hoping it happens because I plan to sign up!!
As a child growing up in America during the 1980’s, I found myself in a world of welfare, poverty, single mothers, no fathers, little employment, fewer cars, and less, and less, and less. Yet I was able to break away from the world of my youth, graduate high school, marry, and not only finish college but successfully stay out of the welfare system for most of my adult life. How did I do it?

I was one of the fortunate ones; a good friend and her family took me in and developed a mentoring relationship with me, one which I consider to have had a long term impact on my life. As I have become a parent myself, I have found that mentoring relationships can bring about long lasting change to anyone (, but they are especially beneficial for those youth that are raised in poverty. 
Let us define poverty. It is easy to get caught up in the dire levels of need found around the globe, and therefore easy to diminish the critical level of poverty that is found in our country. Poverty, according to Mirriam-Websters dictionary is “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions.” ( I appreciate this definition as it is appropriate for this discussion. Poverty in North America looks wealthy, when compared to the rest of the globe. Yet, the term “socially acceptable” is critical for our understanding. In a country full of people with much, yet not enough, I intend to examine the value of mentoring relationships for youth in poverty.
What are some of the long term challenges faced by children in poverty? In addition to the possibility of continuing the cycle of poverty through a second generation, there are other challenges that our youth face, which can be limited or even erased entirely through having healthy mentoring relationships (Kids in Crisis) (United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania).

· Educational rates are found to be higher among youth involved in mentoring relationships.

· Crime rates are lower when youth are involved in mentoring relationships.

· Drug and alcohol use among teens is reduced when youth have healthy mentors.

· Teen pregnancy rates are lower when youth are involved in mentoring relationships

· Youth in mentoring relationships have a greater chance of breaking the cycle of long term poverty themselves.

The topic of education in America has been hotly debated for years. But for those youth who are living under the label of poverty, a good solid education is often just out of reach. Parents who are working several jobs in an attempt to keep a roof over their family have very little time to spend reading to their toddlers, or working on math homework with their elementary age children. Unfortunately for these children, it has been determined that by the third grade test scores can fairly accurately predict how students will do over the rest of their “educational life.”

The good news is that there is hope for such families. Programs such as Head Start (Head Start Programs Overview), a nationwide program specifically geared toward at risk children in poverty, can greatly prepare a child during the preschool years, giving the boost needed to keep up or even stay ahead during elementary school.

But what happens when such a child hits junior high? Typically, children begin to identify more with their peers and form their own identity as they enter their teen years (Novella Ruffin). This is when mentoring relationships are critical for building upon the level of education attained through early childhood intervention and elementary school. The results are startling; in study after study, teens involved in some kind of mentoring or after school program do better in school, have lower absentee rates, and have a greater likelihood of going on to college immediately after high school. (Robert George)

This form of educational boost provides much toward changing the course of a young person’s life. According to the US Census Bureau in the 2005-2009 American Community Survey, the rate of poverty among those without a high school diploma was 24.2%, but was only 11.6% among those with a diploma or equivalent. (United States - Educational Attainment)

Strong mentoring relationships can reduce criminal activity among teenage boys, particularly those raised in poverty with a single mother. According to Dr. Dean Rojek, from the University Of Georgia Department Of Sociology, "(The) No. 1 problem is poverty -- single mothers have a difficult time holding a job and finding child care," he said in an e-mail. "This leads to poor educational experiences, lack of supervision, delinquency and eventually early imprisonment." (Folk)

Mentoring relationships help where parents, and in this case, primarily fathers, are not able to be. Much like when preschoolers need someone to read to them, teens are in need of continued relationships to help them develop their identity, and if they do not find it at home, they will turn to their peers. Even when both parents live in the home, living in poverty increases the likelihood that their time at home is limited.

One on one mentoring is ideal, but where one on one mentoring is not available, after school programs, such as the After School Matters program in Chicago, are an incredible asset for our teenagers.

Teen Pregnancy
The Alan Guttmacher Institute says that over three fourths of teens who have babies come from poor and low-income families, according to the book Poverty in America (Kowlaski).

Breaking the Cycle
Poverty has many roots, some of which stem from circumstances beyond a person’s control, like involuntary unemployment or poor health. There are other issues that create a level of poverty, such as lack of education or limited parental involvement. Mentoring relationships which help build healthier family structures and better educational levels have the ability to help break the cycle.

Poverty is full of hardship. Hunger, homelessness, and a lack of basic winter clothing, for example, can be common daily issues for a poor family. These types of circumstance create challenges that can have long lasting effects on children. As individuals we cannot erase poverty. However, we can help to reduce the long term impact of poverty on children, possibly changing the course of the next generation.

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