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Wanted: Just one hour per month

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image Ron Knight speaks to members of the SouthShore-Ruskin Rotary Club about the mentoring program during a lunch meeting last week. Mitch Traphagen Photo

“Let’s show these students that there are people in the world that are givers, not takers.”

By Mitch Traphagen

“It’s never too late” is an axiom that many people live by, covering everything from quitting smoking or losing weight to returning to college in their middle years. Ron Knight, however, is taking on a different approach in how he wants to help young people in South Hillsborough: “It’s not too early.”

Knight is the president of the Matthew A. Knight Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization created in the memory of his son, a successful and promising Air Force Academy cadet who tragically lost his life in a car accident at age 19. The purpose of the foundation is to award funds to individuals “who are making the world a better place.”

Knight also serves as an admissions liaison for high school students hoping to enter the Air Force Academy. With stringent admissions criteria, it is an institution of higher learning that accepts only the best and the brightest. Knight noticed that even among successful and highly motivated young people interested in the academy, many needed someone to talk to. For Knight, that awareness is resulting in the latest and perhaps most far-reaching endeavor of the foundation: creating a program to mentor high school students at all levels to help them find success and happiness in life. It is a lofty goal, to be certain, but one with an achievable plan.

Knight is seeking mentors in South Hillsborough. He has met with students who are excited about the program at East Bay and Lennard high schools. Now he needs people willing to invest one hour per month to make a positive and enduring difference in the life of a young person. Mentors need not be astronauts or scientists, just people who are happy and comfortable in their own lives and, perhaps most importantly, are willing to talk less about themselves and listen more to a young person. An hour a month is all Knight is asking.

“I need people who can shut up and listen,” Knight said. “The whole point is the student, not the mentor. I need someone who can help to convince a kid that they can do what they want to do, but they need the will and determination to do it.”

In developing this program, Knight found data that shows just how much impact a guiding hand can have — and how earlier is certainly better than later. He found that if a mentor can help keep a student motivated enough to raise their SAT scores; their access to financial aid increases significantly. As another bonus, any additional education will reap big rewards later in life. The impact over a lifetime is enormous.

For instance, a person in their 40s with a high school diploma will on average top out at earning about $40,000 per year. A person with a college degree, however, will top out at nearly double that amount. The income for a person lacking even a high school diploma will, on average, flatten out early on and never significantly increase.

“I don’t believe you have to go to college to improve your lifestyle,” Knight said. “But any additional education will certainly help. If you can put up with even an additional two years in school, things can improve dramatically. A good education is a pathway to financial stability, and that is one of the reasons I think mentoring is so important. There is a lot more to life than just money, but it does take a certain amount of money to live.”

Knight has created data sheets for both students and mentors. From the information provided, he will match up a young person and an adult for a mentoring partnership. He will expect that all mentors be sworn to secrecy in what the students may tell them about their plans and their concerns the present and the future.

“A kid could say, ‘I’m in 10th grade and I’m interested in science or math or even plumbing’ or ‘I want to be a scientist or an attorney’ and I will match them up with an appropriate mentor from the mentor data forms,” Knight said. “I’m looking for people to help guide these kids towards what they want to do, to keep them motivated. For instance, they might not be able to get a degree in four years, it might take five or seven years, but if they want to do it, they can do it.”

A college degree is not a requirement to be a mentor, but life experience and a sense of comfort in your own lifestyle is critical. More than anything, Knight is looking for people willing to listen first. He is looking for people who can appreciate the incalculable rewards in having a positive and enduring impact on the life of a young person. He’s convinced, an hour a month is all it would take.

“Let’s show these students that there are people in the world that are givers, not takers,” Knight said. “Show them there are people who can be trusted, and who can be depended upon, and who ask for nothing in return.”

Knight will hold two orientation meetings for potential mentors on Sept. 13 and 20th beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the former Apollo Beach Chamber of Commerce office near the Sweet Bay supermarket at MiraBay. Currently 30 students are signed up for the program from both East Bay and Lennard high schools. He is looking for at least 19 mentors, although more mentors will allow more students to join the program. He hopes to have the mentoring program operational by October 1.

Further information about the program will be available at the orientation meetings or by emailing highschoolmentors@gmail.com.

For information about the Matthew A. Knight Foundation, visit www.matthewaknightfoundation.org

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