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Partners out to pick up pace in drive for mentors


A one-year $60,000 grant from Plough will provide the administrative support to expand an existing program that has 42 kids waiting to be matched with mentors. by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender

An upgraded hunt is on by a quartet of partners – SCLC Memphis, the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association and the Plough Foundation – to find more mentors for middle school kids in need of adult guidance.

The Rev. Dr. Dwight L. Montgomery, head of Memphis SCLC, outlines the group’s commitment to the effort to secure more mentors. SCLC will dispense grant founds and oversee recruiting.  (Photos by Tyrone P. Easley)

Chiquita Epps, who has long roots as a Juvenile Court detention officer, will visit churches and recruit corporate partners for SCLC and the effort to recruit mentors.

A one-year $60,000 grant from Plough will provide the administrative support to expand an existing program that has 42 kids waiting to be matched with mentors. Created by the district attorney’s office in 2006 to stem truancy rates, the program’s success has proven the need for expansion.

“Memphis can be the flagship for community involvement on our kids’ behalf,” said Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Harold Collins, who heads the program for the D.A.’s office.

“The Plough Foundation has stepped forward because the program works,” Collins said.

“Now we need good citizens to come forward and help these children achieve a better future. Just giving a child someone to listen to can make all the difference in the world. The program data shows that 46 percent of mentored students are less likely to use illegal drugs, 53 percent less like to skip school again and 33 percent less likely to engage in violence.”

The grant will provide administrative support for new program head Chiquita Epps. Eleven years deep as a detention officer with the county, Epps understated her mission.

“I will do everything I can to help them further their education,” said Epps.

There are nearly 1,000 kids on the waiting list. Epps hopes to ramp up the program to adding 50 new mentors a month.

Collins said that just the simple act of providing a letter to parents cuts the rate drastically, but the real fruits derive from giving errant students a shoulder to lean on.

“Before we get involved, students considered truant miss an average of 10 days for each 100 days of school. Once we match them with a mentor that drops to less than 6 days in a school year,” he said.

“Even just sending a letter produces positive results, so we need good people to step forward and help these children.”

Volunteers can contact Collins at 545-5987 or by email at mentor.scdag.com.

Applicants are “thoroughly” screened, and must take a course in proper mentoring skills.

Soon headed to Nashville to become state chief prosecutor, outgoing-D.A. Bill Gibbons told his own personal story of how a concerned adult turned him from being a young hoodlum, before citing a University of Memphis study crediting the mentoring program for “cutting the truancy in half.”

Presently transitioning to replace Gibbons, new D.A. Amy Weyrich reported, “twenty five percent of the youthful offenders we find should be in school when they commit their crimes. This program has been able to help turn them in another direction.”

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