If you're an adult who can find a dozen reasons you can't spend time with children in our community, I wish you'd been around Tuesday evening when some adults found out just how important it is to spend time with a child.
Tim Jackson said he was as proud as a father to hear Lester Dempsey, 14, talk about Jackson's impact on his life during the "Mentor Appreciation Night" sponsored by the Lexington Police Activities League's Mentor program.
"That is the reward for doing this," said Jackson, a mentor. "You are making a difference in these children's lives. It shows that the program works."
One by one, girls and boys stood before men and women with busy lives who had made time to interact with them one hour each week. And those children said what a difference that hour had made in their lives.
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"I think it is great," said Catherine Burnett, whose daughter, Essence Godfrey, 13, is a program participant. "She tells her mentor stuff that she doesn't want to talk to me about."
Burnett said Essence has role models in her life, but the teen years present a unique set of problems for parents. Having a mentor gives Essence the big sister she never had, Burnett said.
January is National Mentoring Month, a time for local organizations to once again ask adults to spend a little time with the children in their communities. Since the month was designated in 2002, presidents and prominent national figures have urged more people to volunteer to help change lives.
Debora Lawson, coordinator for the PAL mentoring program, which began pairing children ages 9 to 14 with willing adults in August, said each adult must undergo a background check and training before being paired with a child of the same gender.
Once paired, they meet for one hour Monday, Tuesday or Thursday at the Andrew Center at Consolidated Baptist Church. Of the 19 matches, she said, only one did not work out and had to be dissolved.
The mentor and the mentored are not permitted to meet outside the church, she said, for the protection of both. They can, however, meet for lunch at the child's school.
Despite meeting at a church, the mentors are not allowed to force any religious doctrine on the children, but they can offer positive counseling, Lawson said.
The program is funded by the National PAL Recovery Act Mentoring Grant, which is implemented nationwide by the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
There are five children on the waiting list, with four adults about to be trained, Lawson said.
Mentors don't have to be perfect, Jackson said.
"You have to care about kids and be open with them," he said. "I'm not perfect and I've shared that with Lester. They recognize realism and they recognize when you are putting on a front. Lester and I broke down those barriers early in our relationship."
Jackson said Lester wants be a football player. He has improved his grades and the two of them work out in the church's weight room.
"He has helped me because I need to work out," Jackson said, laughing. "It's a two-way street."
Jackson, who is the father of four, said his father passed away when he was 4 years old. He was helped by a mentor through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass Inc., he said.
"It is difficult to find the time, but when it is important you will make the time," he said. "And this is important to me."
If you would like to be a PAL mentor or have a child who needs a mentor, contact Lawson at (859) 433-8440 or (859) 621-8064.