Mentors provide fun, friendship, guidance


November 07, 2003|By Lisa Kawata | Lisa Kawata,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MENTORS BRING friendship, fun and guidance each week into the lives of nearly 30 children at Guilford Elementary School. The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Maryland and the fraternity Omega Psi Phi match adults from businesses around the county with children who need an extra adult in their lives to boost their confidence, help with schoolwork and listen to their dreams.

"We have a lot of children who live in single-parent households and who have a lot of siblings. We just feel that they could use a special friend to spend one-on-one time with," said Leslie Farmer, Guilford's school counselor.

Last month, at kickoff pizza parties for Big Brothers Big Sisters, third-, fourth- and fifth-graders met with their mentors during lunch. Four of the five fifth-graders had stayed with their mentors from last year. In between mouthfuls of cheese pizza, the mentors and kids got reacquainted.

Gale Magro sat next to her "little sister," Sherita Love, a fifth-grader. Sherita was born fourth in a line of six brothers and sisters and enjoys the attention. Her mother, Lerrita White-Love, has seen her daughter thrive as a result of the time she spends with Magro.

When the weather's fine, the "sisters" try to eat lunch in the courtyard and maybe have time for some jump rope. They talk about their weekend activities and what's going on at home or at school. Sometimes Magro and Sherita make a craft together or indulge in ice cream from the cafeteria.

"I just thought if I could help a child get a little extra something in her life, have someone to share things with, I could give her more to look forward to," Magro said.

The mentors from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Maryland receive training, go through background checks and are given plenty of resources before meeting with their "littles," the name used for the children by the organization.

At Guilford, the pairs meet for 45 minutes during lunchtime and recess. In previous years, they gathered in one room for lunch, but the youths were tempted to hang out with their schoolmates. This year, each pair has its own room in which to have lunch and to talk or play board games. Farmer and Terri Goodridge, program coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters, provide support. Goodridge supervises a similar program at Deep Run Elementary School. Mentors come from the Rouse Co., CIGNA and Columbia National Mortgage Co.

Engaged in an intense game of Battleship during a weekly lunch meeting, Mark Schlossberg attempts to sink the destroyer of his "little brother," fifth-grader James Ball. James' dad died more than a year ago. Schlossberg heard about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program through his wife, Robin, who has taught at Guilford for 20 years. He spends time with James both in and out of school -- another level of the mentor program offered by Big Brothers Big Sisters, called a "rollover agreement."

Schlossberg, who has multiple sclerosis, uses a scooter to get around, but his disability doesn't keep him from being a mentor. In addition to weekly school visits, the two have gone swimming, eaten out and seen movies and athletic events. Schlossberg has signed James up to play basketball with Savage Boys and Girls Club this winter and has promised to get his "little" to practices and games.

Sean Wilson, also a fifth-grader, has two mentors. Grief over his dad's death led to behavior problems at school, said Sean's mother, Danielle Pulley. When Sean reached second grade, a counselor suggested a mentor through the Omega Psi Phi fraternity -- Owen MacPherson.

Since October last year, Bernard Justis, a senior assistant general counsel for the Rouse Co., has also been a mentor to Sean.

"We talk about school, college, family, even his dad and when he died," said Justis."The sky's the limit. Last week, we talked about personal finances. I asked him what kind of things would he want at 25 years old -- what kind of apartment and car."

Sean had reasonable goals, so the two figured the cost of everything.

"When we added it up at the end, his response was, `Boy, I'm going to have to go to college!' which is exactly the point I wanted him to see," Justis said. He and Sean were paired because they are both extroverted, but they also share a deeper bond. Sean's father died when he was 3 years old; Justis lost his father at age 4.

A week after the pizza party, Sean and a different group of children gathered around the tables at Guilford's media center to listen to Alwin Collins talk about his brothers at Omega Psi Phi. Collins is chairman of the mentor program for the fraternity's Columbia-based Tau Pi chapter. The chapter, which started mentoring in 1994, provides in-school and e-mail mentors for boys at Patuxent Valley Middle School as well as Guilford Elementary.

At this year's initial meeting with the boys, Collins was joined by fraternity brothers J.C. Carothers, Ramsey Alexander Jr. and Luther Clark. Collins explained that they are not there to tutor the boys but "to help direct them into manhood." They will talk with the boys about self-pride and how to set goals, he said, and are not above reminding the kids to keep their shirts tucked in and come to school clean and neat. "We're here to show appropriate ways to achieve success," Collins explained.

"It wasn't so long ago that we were like them," Clark added.

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