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Mentoring program helps at risk youth

Nov. 2, 1999

By TRES GARZA

Reporter

Many children find it difficult to adjust to life. Some lack guidance from their parents, and others don't feel good about themselves. Baylor students are stepping in to help through a program that provides mentors for children in the Waco community who are labeled as 'at risk.'

Community Mentoring for Adolescent Development is an ongoing program of the Health and Wellness department that helps middle-school children get involved in activities that will prevent them from getting into trouble.

Chris Jones, a Jackson, Miss., graduate assistant in health and wellness, said the program is beneficial to sixth and seventh graders who are in an uncertain stage in their lives.

'The program was started five years ago by the health and wellness department,' Jones said. 'It encompasses six Waco Independent School District middle schools. People can sign up for a one-hour training course for one semester of credit.'

Jones said research shows that middle-school students tend to get in trouble with the law and tend to get into fights. That is the main reason the program was started.

The program is designed to last two semesters and gives the mentor and the child an opportunity to learn about each other.

'Training involves visiting the child assigned for one semester,' Jones said. 'Once the mentors are in the second semester, they are pretty much on their own.'

The program is open to any student who wants to make a difference in the life of a pre-teen.

'Being a mentor is a great way for students to get involved in the Waco community,' Jones said. 'It gets people outside the 'Baylor Bubble' and allows them to open their eyes a bit to see what the world is like. Also, liberal arts majors get one human performance credit for mentoring, and there are several tuition remission scholarships available to them.'

The mentor's schedule consists of taking part once a week in a one-hour training course and then going to what is called a 'lighted school' at each of the six middle schools.

'The actual mentoring takes place once a week from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.,' Jones said.

Once the mentor and the child are together, they spend the first 30 minutes doing homework, tutoring or reading. They also have a snack time and a recreation time.

To be able to take part in the program, children are identified as at-risk.

At-risk children consist of those who come from single-parent families, use free-lunch programs or are failing their classes.

'Most of the children in Waco are classified as at risk,' Jones said. 'Mentors are provided for about 20 percent of those kids that need them, but there are still many that don't get mentors. Some mentors even take two children to take care of.'

Funding for the program comes from grants given to the university.

'The GEAR UP grant, which is a five-year, $6 million grant, is the largest ever given to Baylor,' Jones said. 'It is in partnership with McLennan Community College, Texas State Technical College and Baylor to mentor kids from sixth grade all the way up to high school with the intent to get them into college.'

Joy Watterberg, an Englewood, Colo. sophomore, is in her second semester of mentoring.

Watterberg said she and the child she works with have gotten to know each other pretty well.

'You talk with them and find out about their lives,' Watterberg said. 'They open up to you. Their families are receptive to you as well.'