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News: Passing It On

Mentoring initiative brings together city employees, students

By Justine Reisinger · August 23rd, 2006 · News
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  Jim Garges (L) is a mentor to Michael Mitchell, who wants to learn music production. Garges plans to involve him in a program at Media Bridges.
Graham Lienhart

Jim Garges (L) is a mentor to Michael Mitchell, who wants to learn music production. Garges plans to involve him in a program at Media Bridges.



Michael Mitchell wants to be a music producer. He wants to make his own beats and have his own record label. Before he can get the money, training and equipment necessary to follow his dream, he still has to make it through four years of high school.

But thanks to the Mayor's Mentoring Initiative Pilot Program, 14-year-old Mitchell now has the opportunity to get a head start.

Mayor Mark Mallory and the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative (CYC) began a program that partners city employees with students in Cincinnati Public Schools. The program started over the summer with a small group of city employees and students from Clifton Elementary School and will be fully integrated into the CYC's mentoring program in the fall.

"Any time the city can partner with a group that deals with young people and developing young people in the community is good," says Mallory, a mentor himself. "(Mentoring) is just something that I encourage employees to do. It's important to the development of young people to have a positive role model."

Music, civics and life
Mallory's commitment to mentoring and a constant need for mentors led to a partnership between his office and the CYC. Michael Mitchell wants to be a music producer. He wants to make his own beats and have his own record label. Before he can get the money, training and equipment necessary to follow his dream, he still has to make it through four years of high school.

But thanks to the Mayor's Mentoring Initiative Pilot Program, 14-year-old Mitchell now has the opportunity to get a head start.

Mayor Mark Mallory and the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative (CYC) began a program that partners city employees with students in Cincinnati Public Schools. The program started over the summer with a small group of city employees and students from Clifton Elementary School and will be fully integrated into the CYC's mentoring program in the fall.

"Any time the city can partner with a group that deals with young people and developing young people in the community is good," says Mallory, a mentor himself. "(Mentoring) is just something that I encourage employees to do. ... It's important to the development of young people to have a positive role model."

Music, civics and life
Mallory's commitment to mentoring and a constant need for mentors led to a partnership between his office and the CYC.

"One of the greatest challenges for mentoring agencies around the country is where to find a pool of mentors to draw from who, in this case, are able to pass background checks required by state and federal law," says Khalil Osiris, director of the Strengthening Partnerships and Resources for Kids (S.P.A.R.K.) mentoring program at the CYC.

Government employees, by these standards, are perfect candidates, as they have already passed background checks and can help involve students civically, according to Osiris. Mentors commit to spend one hour a week for one year with students.

"All of us are enriched by our relationships with others," Osiris says. "And when you have as a child a caring, loving adult who is willing to share themselves with you, the contribution is immeasurable. There's just no way to really tell how great an impact that will have on the life of a child."

For Mitchell, the impact will come quickly. After hearing of his passion for music, his mentor, Jim Garges, director of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission, made plans to involve him in a Media Bridges project designed to "show the production side of music," Garges says. Media Bridges will show kids how to use and produce music and music videos.

Mitchell will help recruit students for the program and develop the skills he needs to become a music producer.

"The Media Bridges program will help me get on some of the skills I want," he says. "What I'm really looking forward to is the music. I really, really, really like music."

Garges, citywide coordinator for the mentoring initiative, says it will also improve students' understanding of city government.

"Part of it is to make sure young people really understand how the city works," Garges says. "I think Michael and I will have a good time together. My hope is that he'll eventually see, 'This is a friend. This is someone I can talk to.' "

Garges hopes that over the course of the next year 700 city workers will become mentors, roughly 10 percent of the city's employees. Through the Recreation Commission, Garges has helped organize activities throughout for mentors and students. Participants have opportunities to attend Reds games, the Cincinnati Zoo and an all-day basketball clinic with Tim McGhee of the Bengals.

A tool for 'common folk'
The summer pilot program, which concluded with a graduation ceremony Aug. 17 at the Lincoln Recreation Center in the West End, exceeded its goals in terms of the number of mentors and the number who stayed on for the rest of the school year, according to Mallory.

"I hope the pilot program will create enough interest and excitement among participants that they will tell other city employees who will commit to being a mentor," Osiris says.

The summer pilot program provides an example for a program that can be replicated nationally, he says.

"Mayors in other cities have the same opportunity to partner with community, faith-based or grassroots organizations in encouraging the sharing of resources," Osiris says. "In this case, we're talking about human resources: commitment, passion, willingness to roll up your sleeves and being the difference you want to see in the world, to paraphrase Gandhi."

Simone Bess, vice president of the mentoring program at CYC, says many cities can benefit from mentoring programs.

"Cincinnati is not unlike any major city in the nation," she says. "We have a lot of problems, and lots of problems stem from youth and their lack of opportunities for positive experiences outside of the school system. Mentoring and mentoring relationships really provide that support of a caring adult that can work with youth one-on-one to get them to think about the future and get them to feel good about themselves."

Tiffaney Hardy, assistant to the director of public services, says she found the program enriching.

"I think I've always benefited from having a mentor and just wanted the opportunity to give back," she says. "I always had really good teachers in high school and really good mentors growing up through church, and I wanted the chance to give back in a structured program."

Hardy says having city employees for mentors will help students learn more about civic engagement and participation.

"I think that it's important for kids and children and teens to learn about their local government and how they can participate in local government," she says. "I think it's important for students to become citizens of where they live. They're the ambassadors that will help to move our city forward."

City employees are actively supportive of the community, Osiris says.

"One of the greatest untold stories in Cincinnati is the level of commitment of city employees," he says. "Common folk want to make a difference and struggle as to how. Well, mentoring is the 'how'. It's the one thing they can do to make a difference in a child's life." ©

 
 
 
 

 

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