By PHYLLIS HODGES
January was National Mentoring Month, an annual campaign to draw attention to the need for more volunteer mentors to help America’s young people achieve their full potential.
So, how does that apply to the young scholars in Hillsborough County schools? Hillsborough Education Foundation (HEF) manages a statewide Take Stock in Children (TSIC) program for Hillsborough County. As part of the month’s activities to honor its nearly 300 mentors, it began airing an interview on social media with mentor Joanne Sudman and Katherine, the Lennard High School ninth grader paired with her. It can be viewed on YouTube (https://youtu.be/qxqTUyiviFQ).
Sudman views her relationship with Katherine as a win win. Katherine certainly is benefitting, but so is Sudman. When she applied for the program, she was looking for a volunteer activity following the end of her five year tenure as president of the Beth Israel Jewish Congregation in Sun City Center. This mentorship offers a satisfying volunteer activity for which she is perfectly suited with 43 years of experience as a speech and language pathologist and working with many children. When she and Katherine first met in September last year, Sudman was impressed and, as their bond solidifies, so does her respect. “I have never met a 14-year-old so focused and determined. Although Katherine doesn’t know yet the specialty she will pursue, she has set her sights on the medical profession. Becoming a physician’s assistant appeals to her, but veterinary medicine does as well; she loves animals,” Sudman said.
Mentors in the TSIC program commit to four years. They are tasked with introducing young scholars to new opportunities and helping them reach what may seem to be a distant, unfamiliar goal — acquiring a college education and/or workforce ready skills. Through hour-long meetings several times monthly, they motivate, foster confidence and become a source of accountability that might be lacking at home. They do not meet the parents until the end of the school year.
To support the program and provide scholarships to students upon graduation, HEF receives funding from the Florida Department of Education and contributions from foundations and other donors. Every dollar they raise is matched dollar-for-dollar by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation.
Kim Jowell, HEF chief executive officer, said, “For many of our students, they are the first in their family to go to college. Our program offers deserving students a caring volunteer mentor, college success coach and a college scholarship. During National Mentoring Month and throughout the year, we are grateful for our mentors’ dedication and commitment.”
Regarding the need for mentors, Jowell said, “We have a waiting list of students waiting for mentors. Everyone has gifts they can share from their life experiences, and there is always a need for trustworthy role models who can help provide guidance and emotional support. Please join us in helping to change students’ lives.”