Mentors honored at annual breakfast

William Whitehead, Jr. addresses mentors at the annual Friends Mentoring appreciation breakfast. Photo/Special.

Just one person, listening, helping, encouraging, and believing in another, is all it takes to change someone’s life. That one person is a mentor.

The Friends Mentoring program honored its adult and HiTeen (high school) mentors with an annual appreciation breakfast on May 9 at the LaFayette Educational Center.

Mentors, one by one, took center stage as they talked about their mentoring experiences and what being a mentor to a Fayette County Public School student has meant to them. Most vocal were the HiTeen mentors, who work with elementary students in the school system’s After School Program.

“It is really life-changing. You don’t get the easy kids; you get the ones with problems at home. But it feels so good to watch your student progress from that first day, and see how far they have come by the end of school,” said Courtney Smith, a student at Fayette County High who mentors at Fayetteville Elementary.

Courtney was inspired to join the HiTeen Mentoring program after listening to her sister talk about her experiences as a mentor. Danielle Smith, who is graduating this year from Fayette County High, encouraged others to become mentors.

“Mentoring is something I want to continue because I enjoy doing it. You can make a difference in a child’s life. It is a wonderful feeling, and who wouldn’t want to be part of that,” said Smith who also mentors at Fayetteville Elementary.

Whitewater High student Cassidy Ross was honest, saying that she originally got involved in the program so she would have some volunteer work to put on her college applications. However, the experience was a life-changer for her and one she will never forget.

“Being a mentor has had a positive effect on me. My student draws me pictures and always inspires me. That is what I love and adore about him,” said Cassidy, who mentors at Sara Harp Minter Elementary.

Attendees were also treated to a special message from keynote speaker William Whitehead, Jr., a professional American and Canadian football defensive end who played for the New Orleans Saints for eight years. He now operates a foundation that works with youth ages eight to 18 years old offering mentoring, sports, financial literacy, tutoring, and life skills programs.

His message was about disappointments, and the importance of overcoming them and pursuing dreams. He talked about his numerous disappointments as he chased his dream of becoming a professional football player. Although he worked hard, being the first to arrive on the practice field and the last to leave, he was dealt one blow after another until he was ready to give up because he was tired of being disappointed.

“I turned to my father, my mentor, who encouraged me to keep going, to never give up on myself, because opportunity would come along and I would achieve my dreams,” said Whitehead.

At that pivotal moment when he was about to give up, he listened to his father’s words and eventually ended up playing for the Saints. He told the mentors in the room that their words and actions would have a life-changing effect on the students they help, and he encouraged them “not to give up.”

“I know you don’t feel it sometimes, but you are appreciated. Keep mentoring. And if you are not a mentor, become one. You don’t know whose life you will change; it’s amazing,” he said.

Both adult and HiTeen mentors are asked to make a yearlong commitment to meet one hour per week with a student at his or her school. HiTeen mentors are required to have stellar discipline records, and adult mentors must pass a background check in order to be accepted in the Friends Mentoring Program. Both groups are trained before working with students.
Contact Jane Gough, mentoring program manager, for more information, 770-460-3990, ext. 255, or email gough.jane@mail.fcboe.org.