The question, posed eloquently by Baltimore Mentoring Institute director Kalman "Buzzy" Hettleman, is "what can make a difference in changing a young person's life process?"
The answer is an old one: attention from adults who care. Project RAISE, an institute program now in its third year, seeks to provide that answer on an organized, regular basis to youngsters in 13 Baltimore City public schools.
Project RAISE is an eclectic program building on the success of millionaire philanthropist Eugene Lang's "I Have A Dream" project in New York. Mr. Lang offered to support college costs for the kids at his old elementary school if they would stay in school to the finish. Before long, Mr. Lang found he was running a nationally recognized program.
The key to Mr. Lang's success was not the money he offered for college, but the regular attention he and the people he hired to work with the kids could provide. Such attention helps young people to see a new side of the world they think they know, and programs that facilitate such contacts operate in many different settings. What makes RAISE, or Raising Ambition Instills Self-Esteem, work is its aggressive recruitment of businesses and community groups willing to provide adult mentors who stay with the youngsters over the long haul.
It is no minor thing to work for as long as a year with a young person from a different background. Ask all the Big Brothers and Big Sisters who have tried it. Better yet, ask the teachers in the 13 schools targeted by Project RAISE. Yet helping to give hope to a young person offers rewards to the mentor, too. And in boosting the numbers of children who metamorphose from "disadvantaged," "at-risk" youths to productive, active students with a new appreciation of how to achieve their goals, society gets the big payoff.
Baltimore needs more Project RAISEs. Everyone has a stake in the future of Baltimore's children, no matter how far he or she feels removed from the disadvantages of the poorest neighborhoods. It is a lesson all should heed.