The sunset of school days is upon us and high school graduation is this week. This is also the week that a local organization, MEGA Mentors, winds down for the summer and assesses the successes of its program.
One-hundred volunteers are currently mentoring students in six schools from grades 6 through 10, meeting with students twice a week for one hour. Approximately 180 students were mentored during this school year at Thomas Dale High School (where the program started) Community and Meadowbrook, which were expansion projects and now middle schools at Carver, Falling Creek and Providence.
The mentoring program started as a way to “make a positive measurable difference in the lives of African American students” but has expanded to all students.
During a Village News interview with MEGA Mentor’s president, Greg Cummings, a retired senior vice president at Phillip Morris and now a business consultant, Mr. Cummings tapped off the values which the group works to teach their mentorees: “Respect, responsibility, effort and achievement. If we are good role models and center our beliefs around the core tenants, the student will achieve ultimately.”
Cummings said the values improve graduation rates, disciplinary actions and increase scholastic achievement.
“These are the lifelong lessons we were all taught, so we center our mentoring around that,” Cummings said.
The mentors, in addition to one-on-one mentoring, do group sessions as well. They will start with topics as simple as goal setting, skills like public speaking, how to apply for a job, how to write a résumé. “We even delve into social media,” Cummings said with raised eyebrows. “Don’t put it on Facebook if you don’t want to see it twenty years from now.”
According to “The Chronicle,” a web based resource for mentors, “All young people face some level of risk or deal with a few personal challenges, but the youth who find their way to mentoring programs often have substantial risk factors in their life. The volume and severity of those risk factors can have enormous influence on their ability to work with a mentor or reap the benefits of the experience.”
Early in the Chesterfield program Cummings said it was as little difficult to keep peer pressure from preventing students from being involved with the mentors. But Cummings said that after a while mentorees “formed their own clique and that gave them the protection they needed from their group. See, now, they’re a part of another group and they’re OK.”
From that standpoint the volunteers have had some challenges but also have a “can do” attitude. The MEGA Mentors have both surprised and impressed School Board members who have always supported bringing the community into schools.
“MEGA Mentors has grown from a handful of strong leaders to an organization of over 100 individuals and donors helping out our youth in multiple middle and high schools,” said David Wyman, Chairman of the Chesterfield School Board. “They have become part of the fabric of those schools.”
The group is affiliated with the Chesterfield Public Education Foundation to maintain a charitable organization and has close ties to Communities in Schools of Chesterfield County. Much of their initial guidance came from Virginia Mentoring and Chesterfield Schools.
Bermuda School Board Member, Carrie Coyner said, “MEGA Mentors provides opportunities beyond the classroom through their programs. I have had the privilege of working with MEGA Mentors to see the expansion of their programs at Thomas Dale, Community High School and Carver Middle School. It can be difficult to find a way to connect with teenagers through volunteer work, and MEGA Mentors has found a way to make it easy to volunteer by organizing programs and training all volunteers to help based on their talents and schedules.”
There are times when the mentoring process can be daunting and when success is at hand, a situation, not always the fault of the student, can reverse progress. One student was excelling academically and shining among other students. Then a downward spiral of grades attracted the attention of those in the mentoring program. As it goes, the family had become homeless and was living in their car. Tragic as disappointing as it must seem, mentors worked even harder.
But then the success stories always outweigh some of the not so successful circumstances.
“I have been attending MEGA Mentors for my ninth and 10th grade year,” Donovan Bailey is quoted as saying in the group’s brochure. “What I like about MEGA Mentors is that they are preparing me for what is in the outside world.”
“To see the change in attitude and confidence in most of these young men and women after a year is priceless,” said Howard Corey, a member of the Second Baptist Church group of mentors.
First Baptist, as well as some other area churches have added to the effort. “Howard and James Delph led the effort from Second Baptist and that’s worked out very well because they were able to add 19 members to the organization.”
Cummings said the additional 19 volunteers allowed them to expand into two other schools; Chester Community and Carver Middle School. The total number of mentors has now grown to 100, and Cummings says their goal is 180, so they can expand to more schools.
The MEGA Mentors work with students after school and initially that caused some transportation problems, but the mentors pay the school division to provide transportation after a mentoring session.
They raise funds for their effort. The MEGA Mentors have one major fund raiser a year “in addition to passing the hat,” Cummings said. “We hold an art benefit and sale at the Hippodrome Theatre.”
“MEGA Mentors is a great example of community members seeing a growing need to have more adults involved in the lives of our youth and working cooperatively with schools to address those needs,” Wyman said.