La Verne Magazine
1-on-1: Mentors Shape Future
by Jeanette M. Neyman
illustration by Sarah Henry
"I care" are two of the most powerful words in the English
language. When they are spoken or shown to a child, it can be the difference
between night and day. Things that may seem easy or straightforward are
often mysterious to young people. It is easier than one may think to make
a difference in a child's life.
The decision to become a mentor for Kortney Stevenson, 32, was borne
of her own life experience. As a former resident at the David and Margaret
Home for Girls more than 13 years ago, she knows where the girls are coming
from. Stevenson says she hopes to steer her mentee, Sherie, away from some
of the mistakes she made as a young adult.
"I think the most important thing is to learn to love yourself.
I had to realize that I was a worthwhile person. I didn't find that out
until my daughter was born. Then I realized I had to change because I didn't
want her to go through the same things as I did growing up," she says.
Sherie says it helps her that Stevenson has been through the system.
"She's really down to earth, and I find it easier to relate to her
because she's been there," she says.
Mentoring is a deep commitment. It does far more harm than good to enter
a young person's life, build up trust, and then abandon the relationship.
Sandra Price, mentor coordinator at the David and Margaret Home for Girls
in La Verne, explains that in a typical month she gets nearly 30 calls from
people interested in being mentors. Of that number, only two or three finish
the paperwork and go through the process. Price asks potential mentors to
be as honest as possible with themselves before committing.
"If a person is not sure about in-depth mentoring, it is better
to try one of the many shorter-term alternatives, such as tutoring,"
The process to become a mentor, which typically takes six to eight weeks,
includes a background investigation, tuberculosis test, reference check,
interview and fingerprints. The mentor is also asked to provide a one-year
commitment and at least two scheduled monthly visits.
Kim Kunkel, 27, who is a mentor to Michelle at David and Margaret, remembers
the lengthy process.
"I thought I would just sign up and get a girl," Kunkel recalls.
"But now looking back, I think it is important not to rush into it."
Kunkel works two jobs and attends Cal Poly Pomona to obtain her teaching
credential in special education. She admits it takes some time out of your
"But if you're up front and honest about your schedule, it will
work out. The important thing is to be steady. They need consistency,"
Michelle, Kunkel's mentee, is following in Kunkel's footsteps. She has
recently graduated high school, holds down two jobs and is starting college
in the fall.
"Kim gave me hope and inspiration. I saw life in a whole new perspective,"
Michelle says with enthusiasm. "I know I can do whatever I set my mind
Activities shared by mentors and mentees range from going to the beach
and in-line skating to eating and just hanging out.
"I am on a limited budget, so we do all kinds of stuff that's cheap
or free," Kunkel says. "Sometimes you have to be creative, but
they love that."
"They don't care what you do, just be with them," she adds.
In a landmark study conducted by the Harvard Mentoring Project, 1,000
young people on the waiting list of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America-mostly
urban youth aged 11 to 15-were randomly assigned to two groups. Members
of the first group were assigned a mentor; members of the other group remained
on the waiting list. Typically, the mentors met with the young people three
times a month, with the average meeting lasting four hours. Comparing the
two groups 18 months later, the children with mentors were 46 percent less
likely to begin using illegal drugs; 27 percent less likely to begin using
alcohol; 53 percent less likely to skip school and 33 percent less likely
to engage in violence. Rather than focusing separately on discrete problems
such as alcohol and other drugs, school drop-out, youth violence and teen
pregnancy-all of which may affect the same child-the strength of mentoring
is that it deals with all these problems simultaneously by addressing the
needs of the child as a whole.
Kunkel says she gets a tremendous amount of satisfaction out of knowing
that she is making a difference in another person's life. But she admits
the relationship is not one-sided.
"I have learned a lot about myself," she confesses. "And
a lot about reality."
A Mentor's Role
What a Mentor is:
a responsive adult
What a Mentor is not:
a foster parent
a parole officer
a cool peer
Reprinted with permission from the National Mentoring Partnership,