Editor's Note: Each week this month, we will profile an example of how you can participate in mentoring programs.
There are as many as 3,000 children in the Lowcountry who would benefit from having a mentor.
That is, if mentors could be found for them.
"It's hard to calculate, but we figure that we could easily serve 2,500 to 3,000 additional children," says Jacquie Kennedy, executive director of the Mayor's Office for Children, Youth & Families in Charleston. She is unsure of how many children are being served because not all mentor programs are reported.
Mentoring involves building a friendship with a youngster and providing him with support, guidance and advocacy.
Young people who are mentored are less likely to try drugs and are more likely to stay in school, according to www.mentoring.org. They have an increased level of self-esteem, self-confidence and self-discipline.
January is National Mentoring Month.
The theme of Charleston's effort is "Expand Your Universe. Mentor a Child," and the goal is to recruit more mentors.
"Recruitment is really 12 months of the year," Kennedy says. "But January is the month we can give it extra punch."
Locally, the Be a Mentor initiative was developed after a 2003 donation from pension fund guru and billionaire philanthropist Foster Friess, who was the keynote speaker at that year's Annual Charleston Prayer Breakfast. Friess challenged leaders to establish Charleston as a "Mentoring North Star" to the nation.
After that, the Mentoring Consortium was formed. It's not a direct service provider, but a network of agencies with similar goals, including the Mayor's Office for Children, Youth & Families; Upward Bound; Communities in Schools; Big Brothers Big Sisters; Charleston Leadership Foundation; Mayor's Office on Education, Youth and Families in North Charleston; and the Charleston Center.
"Our recruitment efforts have generated about 200 mentors through the BAM (Be a Mentor) initiative," Kennedy says.
Efforts also include providing support to those interested in enhancing or establishing a mentoring program. Mentoring programs exist in schools, community centers and faith-based organizations and include programs such as lunch buddies, one-on-one, mentor/tutor and peer-to-peer.
The commitment varies according to the program. Some require as little as two hours a month, while others offer a chance to mentor much more often. Volunteers are matched by schedule, lifestyle, availability and preferences.
"There's a myth that there's only one type of program," Kennedy says. "But there are so many types of mentoring that people can do. One of the obstacles is getting the word out and letting folks know that this is so easy. It's a small investment in supporting a young person. People think they don't have time, but we are able to be extremely flexible."
For instance, she says, folks who want to be a lunch buddy but aren't available midday instead could be a breakfast buddy or even a snack buddy.
"It can be a couple of hours every other week," she says. "It doesn't have to be an every-week commitment."
Mentoring also has benefits for the mentors. It gives them a chance to make a difference, learn about themselves, give back and have fun.
A recruitment event is being planned for early February. Visit www.bam.sc or call 769-7715.