Suffolk 757 Protégé program begins

Published 8:34 pm Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mentor: Jerome Branham, left, serves as a mentor to seventh-grader John Spearman as part of a two-year program, called Suffolk 757 Protégé, designed to give young teens in Suffolk good role models.

For Jerome Branham, mentoring is something that he has always wanted to do, but he was afraid to take the first step.

After several years considering becoming a mentor, Branham’s decision was jumpstarted by attending a meeting where speakers from the community were discussing the issues that youth face. It was at that meeting that Branham signed up for the city’s Suffolk 757 Protégé program.

After the meeting, his wife, Youth Services Coordinator Jennifer Branham, set up a table where people could volunteer to become mentors. Branham decided to take a leap of faith and put his name on the sheet.

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Seventh-grade student John Spearman enjoys football and basketball. He loves playing video games, rollerblading and driving go-carts. His favorite color is red.

Branham and John may not share every interest, but they have basketball in common, and they both have generous spirits. That’s what made the middle-schooler and the grandfather the perfect match.

The Suffolk 757 Protégé program aims to build positive relationships between mentors and youth over a two-year period of time through community service and parental involvement, according to Lakita Frazier, director of Suffolk Parks and Recreation. Suffolk 757 Protégé strives to increase academic achievement as well as increasing self-esteem and goal setting.

Mentors and young people are matched up according to their interests and the potential for the mentor to be able to inspire the youth to be a positive force in the community.

“In the application process, we ask the child and mentor to list out their likes and dislikes and activities they are interested in. We match based on that,” Frazier said.

Mentors are asked to commit to a year. They are only asked to donate two hours a week or eight hours a month, said Frazier.

John said he hopes to one day give back to his community by becoming a mentor himself — that is, after he joins the NFL.

“I would go out and do things the kid likes to do to make them happy,” John said. “[I] can teach kids the right things, so they won’t have to get that first wrong answer.”

John feels that as an NFL player, he will be able to influence more kids. He hopes to influence young people who don’t have two parents and who might not have strong role models in their lives.

“Some kids don’t have fathers and parents that are always there to encourage them,” John said. “I would tell them that they still have a chance to get that education.”

John said his mother entered him in the program, but he is excited by the prospect of spending time with Branham.

“I hope to become a better person,” he said. “Everybody can get better.”

Branham, too, is excited to begin his mentoring relationship with John. He is eager for the opportunity to help.

“It’s something I always had in the back of my mind to do, but I never did anything about it,” Branham said. “I hope to have the feeling that I’ve actually helped someone and made a positive difference in his life. I want to be part of the solution.”

To people considering becoming mentors, Branham said to go for it.

“Take that leap of faith if they have hesitancy to do it,” he said. “There is not a whole lot of time that it requires. Take the time to consider doing it because it does have positive results.”

Branham said that it’s important for kids to know that there are people out there that care about them and want to see them become a positive part of the community.

“Having a mentor helps them make positive decisions they can incorporate beyond childhood,” Frazier said.

“An hour, 10 minutes or 15 minutes can make a big difference in someone’s life,” Branham added. “I’m going to give this my best shot and I know it’s going to work. I just have that feeling.”