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By Maureen Krivo

Mentor Maureen Krivo and a young friend

I felt like a first-grader again as I sat in the small chair in the media center waiting to meet my mentoree. Glancing up at the clock, my mind began to race. One whole hour. Could I keep this little guy entertained for one whole hour? What if he didn’t like me? What if I bored him to tears? What if he didn’t like any of the books or games I brought? I also brought paper, crayons, colored pencils and markers. What if he didn’t like to draw? WHAT IF??

I studied him as he walked toward me. He studied the floor. We were introduced, and that’s when I caught my first glance of his big brown eyes and the adorable freckles sprinkled across his nose. Soon we were in deep conversation about our favorite things to do. We drew pictures of ourselves doing those favorite things. He took my drawing home, and I took his drawing home, where it presently resides on my refrigerator. We moved on to an intense game of Chutes and Ladders. He won, and I presented him with a brand new "Finding Nemo" pencil. Taking it in both hands, he stared at it as if it were made of solid gold. He looked up at me with a very serious expression and said, "I won’t be able to sharpen this for a couple of days." "Why?" I asked. "We don’t have a sharpener," he replied. "I think we can take care of that right now," I assured him. So we walked together to the media specialist’s desk and requested the use of her pencil sharpener. Once again he took the newly sharpened pencil in both hands, staring at it as if it were made of gold. Looking at me, he smiled and said, "Maybe you can win next time." You see, he wanted me to have a special "golden" pencil, too.

I wouldn’t trade my time with my new friend for anything. It is one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. I shudder to think of how I very nearly missed the opportunity to be a part of this amazing program. "I’m too busy," I said. And, in fact, I had actually believed that. But God intervened and threw a monkey wrench into this "Type A" personality’s life. I discovered that if I am too busy to engage fully and relationally in the human experience, well, then I’m just too darn busy! What a lesson! What a gift!

Mentoring a child is humbling, challenging, and deeply rewarding. I participate in the "Hundreds of Heroes" mentoring program at Compton Elementary School in west Cobb County, a sprawling one-story brown brick building built in 1969. It is a Title I school, meaning that over 50% of the students are eligible for the reduced or free lunch program. For Compton, that percentage is over 60%. To paint an even clearer picture, the transiency rate has gone up 22% in the course of a year. In the 1999-2000 school year, 14% of the students were economically disadvantaged. By the 2004-2005 school year, that percentage grew to 23%. These statistics are unsettling…heart-breaking, really, when you consider that these are our children, the next generation.

Through the mentoring program, the teachers and staff at Compton seek to identify those children who seem most in need of a stable, positive, adult role model in their lives. Parents can also request that their child be considered for participation in the program. Prospective mentors go through a short informational and training session. They are asked to commit to meeting with their mentorees on a regular basis. One hour a week is the suggested commitment level, based on optimal results in the past. Prospective mentors then complete the paperwork necessary for a background check, which is conducted by the Cobb County School System. Once they receive clearance to mentor, every effort is made to make a good match between mentors and mentorees. Then the fun begins! Within certain protective constraints, mentors and mentorees can spend time together doing anything they choose: playing games, making crafts, reading, working on homework, talking, etc. The possibilities are endless! More often than not, that one hour a week is eagerly anticipated by both mentor and mentoree!

The "Hundreds of Heroes" mentoring program was modeled after a similar program in California. It was brought to Cobb County twelve years ago by Peggy Nesbit, the Title I Supervisor for Cobb County Schools at the time. Guidance Counselor, Dr. Augustine Esezobor, was impressed enough by the success stories from the program that he brought it to Compton for the 2005-2006 school year. Bonnie Little, the Principal, is an enthusiastic supporter of the program, as well. She often speaks to groups of educators and community business leaders about the impact the "Hundreds of Heroes" program has had on students at Compton.

If you would like to learn more about the "Hundreds of Heroes" mentoring program at Compton Elementary School, please call Kelly Brown, the Parent Facilitator, at 770-222-3700 (x226). I encourage you to call any school and get involved, whether you are a retiree, empty-nester, or stay-at-home parent with children in school. If we all join hands, across counties and communities, amazing things will happen in our schools. And amazing things will happen in our lives, as well!

This I know is true: Reasonably investing your time and energy into making a positive difference in your community, even if it’s in just one person’s life, will help you walk right past the end of your “self” and into the joy of life that so often seems to elude us. Pay attention to the things that speak to your heart, whether it’s mentoring or recycling. Start small. Be creative. Whatever you decide to do, I hope you get your golden pencil.

County: Cobb County

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