CHARLOTTE, N.C. - "At first I thought, am I capable of doing this?" Katie Black is a 54-year-old Realtor whose only daughter received a private school education. Black is a Queen City native, but until recently, described herself as "so far removed."
Black says, "I didn't even know where Druid Hills was and I grew up in Charlotte!" In December, Black changed that. She signed up to mentor a first grader at Druid Hills Elementary School. The little girl's mom recently died and so did Black's. The two bonded immediately. They spend about an hour a week together doing things like making crafts.
Black says, "My goal is to stick with her 'til she graduates, which will make, hmm, let's see, I'm how old? She's in first grade!"
This year's July Fourth Uptown celebration could be a tipping point for Charlotte in terms of our community realizing just how effective mentoring can be. Hundreds of men showed up Uptown on the night of that holiday to keep young people in line and crime incidents down and it worked.
"This is a community that comes together in times of trial," says Molly Shaw. Shaw heads up the non profit Communities in Schools, a drop out prevention program. She says the recession has prompted an outpouring of support. She says, "It may be that people feel like 'I can't write that check right now, but what I can do is give of my time.'"
More and more people are offering their time. Right now, CIS Charlotte has more than 400 volunteers. Last year, they served 5,700 at risk kids. Next year, they will serve more than 6,000. 98% of those kids get promoted to the next grade and 95% graduate.
That success is largely attributed to mentoring. Shaw says, "There are plenty of ways to get involved. There are plenty of levels to get involved on. it's not about always making the largest commitment of your time, but even the smallest commitment makes a difference for these kids."
In a computer lab in Uptown, Brian Willis and the other volunteers at 100 Black Men spend time with at risk boys between the ages of eight and 18. During the summer months, they also take the kids on field trips to places like the famed Apollo Theater in New York.
Tony Perez of Bank of America, the president of Johnson C. Smith Dr. Ronald Carter and Police Chief Rodney Monroe are members. But you don't have to be somebody to be someone to a kid in need.
"We just want somebody responsible," says Willis says the recession drove membership up at 100 Black Men. As money grew tighter in the Queen City, many men re-evaluated their priorities. He says, "They started to find out what's really important and it's about family."
Over the past two years, membership has grown from 68 to 109. The graduation rate of their kids is 100%.
Willis says, "They ask you two questions in Charlotte: what church do you go to and where do you volunteer? And if you don't have an answer, then your conversation is pretty short in this city."
Black's conversations are getting much longer these days. She's not only mentoring. She's recruiting other mentors, too; cold calling Charlotte's successful business leaders and asking them to give up some time to kids who need a positive role model. She says: it's the least we could all do. Black says, "It says in Luke 12:48 that 'Those to whom much has been given, much is required.' We've been given so much."
The commitment can be small or large but experts stresses that follow through is imperative. Once you commit to mentor a child, you've gotta see it through or else you're just reinforcing to the kids that they can't rely on adults.
For more information on mentoring, please go to http://www.cischarlotte.org/ or http://www.100blackmenofcharlotte.org/