Doing something for Suffolk

Published 7:41 pm Monday, January 24, 2011

It’s easy to sit back and complain about a problem, hoping that someone will step forward and do something about it. In fact, that’s what most of us do about the problems that plague our society — watch as they either get worse or as someone with a bit more motivation and energy helps to solve them.

In Suffolk, a small group of adults is working behind the scenes to help solve the problem of disengaged youth without proper role models. As it turns out, the best way to help teens find good role models is not to point them out to the teens and hope that they find a reason to connect. Instead, the best way to provide a role model for young teens is to become one.

Jerome Branham has committed to do just that. He and his young charge, John Spearman, are still getting to know one another after just a couple of meetings, but both have a good feeling for the program they’ve joined, 757 Protégé, and its potential for changing both of their lives.

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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.

A Pew Public/Private Ventures study some time ago found that 18 months after getting paired with mentors, mentored teens were 46 percent less likely than their peers to use drugs, 27 percent less likely to drink, 47 percent less likely to skip class, 53 percent less likely to skip school and 33 percent less likely to hit someone.

Another study showed that mentored teens are more likely to stay in school, attend classes, be less disruptive in class, get better grades and go to college.

Branham and the other mentor/volunteers may or may not have known all those statistics when they signed up for the program. But they have very clearly become a big part in changing the lives of the 11- to 14-year-olds they mentor. And in so doing, they are changing Suffolk — one teen at a time — into an even better place to live.