Mentors discover the power
It is possible to alter the future one person at a time. Samuel Martin is a testament to that. Martin, 20, is about to start his senior year at the University of Washington, where he is majoring in political science.
Seattle Times staff columnist
It is possible to alter the future one person at a time.
Samuel Martin is a testament to that. Martin, 20, is about to start his senior year at the University of Washington, where he is majoring in political science.
He could just as easily have been a high-school dropout, or worse. His close childhood friend, Allen Joplin, was shot dead at 17 two years ago. Police believe the shooting was gang-related.
Some of the difference was made by factors no one can control, but Martin also had some structured support.
His freshman year at Rainier Beach High School, Martin was paired with a mentor from Community for Youth, a program that tries to improve the life prospects of students at three Seattle high schools (Cleveland and Chief Sealth students also participate) where outcomes too often fall short.
Martin and his primary mentor, Richard Hodgin, told me about their relationship.
It's like family, they said. Mutual, intertwined and without an end date. And in this case, without some family shortcomings.
Martin spent his early life with his paternal grandmother before being placed in foster care and living with one aunt, then another. He said his second aunt's stability gave him a base from which to grow.
About the time he was placed with her, Martin entered high school and the Community for Youth program.
It helped him set goals and feel confident. He got tutoring through Treehouse for Kids and "found out I wasn't stupid." College became an option.
With his new sense of possibilities he was able to take advantage of other help.
The power of good mentorship is huge. Perhaps you read in The Seattle Times on Sunday that the Seattle area has one of the best records in the country for funneling basketball players to the pros. Much of the credit goes to NBA players who come back to mentor high-school athletes.
Hodgin is trying to create a strong Community for Youth alumni group, like the one for basketball.
He got Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue, of which he is a member, to co-sponsor a benefit screening of the documentary "Heart of Stone," about a principal who tries, with the help of alumni, to revitalize Weequahic High School in Newark, N.J. (3 p.m. Aug. 29 at Southside Commons, 3518 S. Edmunds Street, in Seattle.)
Hodgin says he met Martin, "thinking I'm going to rescue this at-risk minority kid." But that's not what happened. Hodgin said he's a beneficiary. "I have people who call me up on my birthday ... we're involved in each others' lives."
They support him as he supports them. Mentors admit to their own imperfections and the young people get to see someone who is human and cares. And more than anything, kids need to know a mentor is going to be there this year and next and the year after.
Hodgin went with Martin to view the body of his slain friend and Hodgin was struck by what he saw.
There were children crying and hugging, trying to console each other. A lot of kids need more adult support.
The Community for Youth program has focused on finding more mentors this year, hoping eventually to expand into more schools, even as it copes with this harsh economy. Community for Youth board chair Opokua Oduro said money was so tight they couldn't admit new freshmen this past year and staff jobs are being filled by volunteers.
"The power of the organization is that adults show up year after year and volunteer," she said. "We use the term 'relentless commitment.' That's what mentors do."
Now Martin volunteers, too, tutoring elementary-school students for instance, and he has a plan. He wants to run a business for a while, make some money then work in the public sphere where his passion is making life better for children in the foster-care system.
Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or email@example.com.
About Jerry Large
I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 206-464-3346
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.