Bradley Initiative for Church and Community has honored a variety of surprised and humbled community mentors in a special presentation at the Cleveland Family YMCA.
A teacher, a school counselor, a coach, a volunteer and an aunt made up the distinguished list of those selected as mentors of the year.
BICC Youth Development Director Chrissy Jones said the purpose of the program is to show anyone can be a mentor.
“Kids wrote in about people who noticed them in the hallway, those who volunteer their time and teachers and ... counselors who went above and beyond the call of duty,” Jones said. “As adults, anyone can be a mentor. I think a lot of time we don’t realize the impact we have on our youth.”
A fourth-grade student at Charleston Elementary highlighted school volunteer Billie Hamilton’s impact on her life.
She said Hamilton is always willing to help with her homework and studying. As a student learning English as a second language, she appreciates the help Hamilton gives to help her succeed in school.
Hamilton, a retired teacher with more than 25 years under her belt, said helping children is a joy, not a job.
“There are so many that need it who either do not have the encouragement they need at home,” Hamilton said. “Or, maybe parents work and are unable to help these children. Or, it might be a language issue.”
Ocoee Middle School teacher Todd Rose took a moment to address the small crowd with his Mentor of the Year certificate in hand.
He said the student who nominated him is one of the most improved students in the middle school’s seventh grade.
“He has really turned it around,” Rose said. “He is focused [more].”
Rose’s student nominated him because he took the time to find out why he was in a bad mood. Jones read pieces of the seventh-grader’s letter aloud. He noticed his student’s behavioral problems and took him aside to see what was wrong.
Another seventh-grade student nominated his aunt, Alicia Evans. He said she always tries to cheer him up.
“In every situation, you do not just tell him the answer. Even when he asks you what to do, what you would choose, you always make him think through the consequences,” Jones said. “I think a lot of times as adults we want to give the answers.”
High school coach Jason McCowan was not present to receive his certificate.
Fellow high school educator Blair Deacon received the final honors of the program. Multiple students at the Teen Learning Center wrote in to highlight the work completed by the school counselor. Deacon was both touched and stunned by the honor.
Jones said the students emphasized Deacon is a good role model. They reported she goes above and beyond to help them understand what they are going through.
Former student Jay Navarrete-Segui showed up to support Deacon.
“At the beginning of the year, I had a lot of people who doubted me. There were a select few who actually believed in me, and Ms. Blair Deacon was one of them,” Navarrete-Segui said. “She helped me finish something that I thought was impossible. I finished two years of school in one semester.”
He said the task would have been impossible without the support of his family and Deacon.
Both stayed after to talk about the importance of mentors in the lives of students.
Deacon said her mindset is every child, every day.
“Each student comes to me with individual needs, and I want to try and treat each student as an individual,” Deacon said. “Each student comes to me with fresh needs and I am going to address them.”
Navarrete-Segui said mentoring can be as simple as dedicating a portion of time to a student.
“It helps the student get through school,” he said. “School is harder for some students than others. We need a mentor to get through it — the hard times and the good times.”
Jones said while she thought the program was a success, she would like to see more community involvement next year. She also expressed a need for more adults to join BICC’s Bridging the Gap mentoring program.
“The research shows that having adult support is crucial to kids’ success. If there are adults who can give one hour a week through this program, they are really potentially changing a child’s life,” Jones said. “Potentially, they could be the key factor that helps the student graduate or stay away from drugs.”
More information on the Bridging the Gap program can be found at www.bicc-inc.org.