Giving the Will a Way

Staff Mentors Give Clarity to Highschoolers Who Are Motivated, But Unfocused

by D. Lyn Hunter

John Sullivan and Brett Washington spend time together going to movies, working out at the gym and going to dinner. But they are more than just good friends, they are mentor and learner.

Sullivan and Brett, a high school junior, are part of the Berkeley Staff Mentorship Program, which matches Berkeley staff with students at Berkeley High School.

Volunteers in the program provide valuable role models for the students, assisting them in their transition from high school to work or college.

"John gives me advice on classes and even bought me a book to help study for the SAT tests," said Brett. "But mostly we just hang out; we're partners."

Brett, an aspiring athlete, said it helps to have an older friend so that he can get used to communicating with professional people. Sullivan, a former Green Bay Packer and an adviser in the Athletic Study Center on campus, agrees, saying that being his mentor has helped prepare Brett for life after high school.

"Hanging out with me at the study center has brought him into contact with a lot of student athletes and this has really motivated him to go to college," said Sullivan. By talking to the athletes he gets an understanding of what they go through and has a better idea of what to expect when he gets to college, said Sullivan.

"I would like to play in the NBA, but if that doesn't work out John has helped me figure out a couple of possible majors in either biotechnology or mass communications," said Brett.

The mentor program is seeking more staff members willing to assist young people, who like Brett want to succeed but aren't quite sure how to do it.

"There are currently 190 eligible students at Berkeley High School waiting to be matched with mentors, but right now we only have 52 staff members trained," said Leon Schmidt, a Visitors Center staff member who coordinates the program.

The goal is to have a staff mentor for each student who wants to participate. "Kids tend to be more successful in the real world if they get an opportunity to experience adult situations beforehand. Mentors provide this valuable opportunity," said Schmidt.

Schmidt said only a small commitment of time is asked of staff members who participate in the program. This includes one three-hour training session and four or more hours per month with the student.

Mentors can have a student come to their workplace to see how they perform their jobs, or they can take them on outings such as concerts or sporting events. The emphasis is on interaction, said Schmidt.

"These aren't troubled kids who need heavy-duty counseling," he said. "They got into this program because they are very motivated and just need someone to help them envision their futures."


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