Mentoring lunch set for Friday

Published 11:32 pm Tuesday, January 22, 2008

NATCHEZ — For only four hours a month, you can help a child realize the dream of a better life. It sounds like an infomercial, but it is a statistical reality of mentoring programs.

The Adams County Coalition for Children and Youth has recently partnered with the Jackson chapter of 100 Black Men, and will have a noon luncheon Friday at the Isle of Capri to discuss the mentoring program with anyone interested.

The speaker at the luncheon will be John Robinson, executive director of 100 Black Men.

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The idea of mentoring is to give a child access to a new world of ideas and experiences, said Paige Dickey, a caseworker and supervisor associated with Adams County Coalition for Children and Youth.

“Children involved with mentoring are less likely to do drugs and more likely to stay in school,” she said.

Mentors are just supposed to be a friendly face outside of the child’s family who is not an authority figure, Dickey said.

Mentors must be at least 21, pass extensive background checks and are required to spend at least four hours a month with the child they are mentoring.

But for Natchezian Henry Upshaw, who has been involved with the program since August, that minimum time requirement isn’t enough.

“I usually spend about twice that, sometimes three times that amount of time,” he said.

His goals with the program are simple, Upshaw said.

“I just want to let them (the children) see what a normal life looks like,” he said. “A lot of these kids have parents in jail or on drugs and so they think that is what is normal. They just need to see what really is normal.”

Upshaw said he has seen the 8-year-old boy he is mentoring come a long way, but the program has also had an effect on him.

“It changed me too,” he said. “It made me see that there was a whole world of kids out there who have family challenges and they just need somebody to get involved. It made me more sensitive to the people I just walk by or the parts of town that we just drive by and avoid.”

The best way to address some social ills is involvement in programs like mentoring, Upshaw said.

“Some things cannot be solved by passing another law,” he said. “Some things can only be solved by getting involved personally and spending our time to solve them.”

What inspires him is the future he believes the child he is mentoring can have, Upshaw said.

“He (the child) has got tremendous potential, tremendous awareness,” Upshaw said. “It would be a shame for that potential to never be tapped into.”

And that is exactly the goal of mentoring, Dickey said.

“When a child is mentored, their self-esteem improves, and that helps them face daily challenges,” she said.