Being a mentor is easy, said Staff Sgt. Jason Greenwell, and it makes a huge difference.
Mentoring is just about including a child in your life. The 30-year-old has worked with 13-year-old La’Torri Simmons for about four years, after being stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base.
“I was looking for volunteer opportunities and wanted to make an impact,” he said.
Volunteers of America North Louisiana pairs responsible adults with children from its LightHouse after-school program. Of the 659 children served this year, 73% live with a single mother or grandparent.
“All of them could use a mentor. Mentors are critical partners in our effort to serve at-risk youth,” said Tella Henderson, program director at Volunteers of America.
The adults provide one-on-one attention and help with goal setting and daily life issues that many children need.
To La’Torri, a lanky teen with a big smile, a mentor is a “special person that helps you.”
Greenwell said starting the relationship didn’t take too much effort. “He was just a kid looking for something to do outside his neighborhood.”
Now, La’Torri is part of Greenwell family, which also includes Greenwell’s wife and two young daughters. They watch movies, play basketball, and Greenwell taught him how to fly remote control planes. La’Torri’s favorite part: “Everything.”
The outings and excursions aren’t a given. Greenwell has tried to instill some discipline and the importance of good grades.
“If I don’t get good grades, I can’t go,” La’Torri said.
It’s working. La’Torri’s grades have gone from near failing to B’s and C’s. And his mom reports that he’s more respectful and helpful at home.
Mentors are asked to commit one hour a week for a year to their mentee. But Greenwell found that can easily turn into two or more. He also found it hard to leave La’Torri’s younger brother and his cousins out, so they often all pile in the car together.
Greenwell regularly encourages the younger airmen he works with to get involved. “Your day is spent playing video games and watching TV – do that with a mentee.”
The rewards are hard to measure.
“When the child comes up and hugs you, you know you’ve made a difference,” he said. “You can see that they’re happy.”
To learn more about mentoring, call Volunteers of America at 221-2669 or visit www.voanorthla.org.