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April 2, 2008 > Be a mentor

Be a mentor

By Joe O. Ramos
Photos By Joe O. Ramos

It is late at night, it is dark and the only light on is on overhead naked light bulb that will be turned off at 10 p.m. As you look around in your lonely cell, you see the mattress rolled up in the corner. You find yourself alone, and wish you could re-live the last 24 hours that brought you to this place. You ask yourself, "Why am I here?" And like many other young people who find themselves in juvenile hall or jail, there may be a multitude of reasons. But usually one common link is the lack of guidance from an adult family member, teacher, church member or mentor.

That missing link often leads down a dark road and an introduction to the Juvenile Justice System and incarceration. One place on that road, called Camp Sweeny, is part of Alameda Juvenile Hall (now known as the Juvenile Justice Center). There is hope at this location through a new mentoring program, "Be A Mentor" which provides guidance and caring necessary to turn things around. The "Be A Mentor" program is not limited to Camp Sweeny and the Alameda County Juvenile Hall. Mentors also work to change attitudes and futures at Hayward Unified School District, Castlemont High School in Oakland, Foster Care Mentoring, and Mentoring Children of Prisoners (MCP).

"My passion and desire is to help the next generation of kids that are on the brink of opportunity. I don't like to use the negative connotation of 'at risk'" said Laura Gregg, one of the Project Managers of Be A Mentor. "I am involved in mentoring because mentoring has changed my life. At the age of 17, I too had some problems in my life. My parents got a divorce and a woman named Corey and a man named Andy became mentors in my life, and I want to give back," she added.

Be A Mentor is trying to reach out to adults who would like to develop a one-on-one relationship with children, adolescents and young adults. The program typically finds volunteers by word of mouth, but an advertising campaign is in the works to reach more potential volunteers in Alameda County. Be A Mentor has established a partnership with the Hayward Unified School District and is developing a mentorship program at Hayward's five middle schools. All responsible adults are welcome and needed for the program to be successful but there is an urgent need for male volunteers from the African-American, Asian and Latino communities. According to Gregg, Be A Mentor is usually able to attract more female mentors than males.

"Mentoring is sometimes perceived as feminine, nurturing, caring and the majority of our volunteers are females in the ages of 21 through 55. Although we are looking for women, there is a stronger need for males in the same age group of 21-55 years old or older," she said.

If you are interested in getting more information about Be A Mentor, visit their website at or contact Gregg at (510) 795-6488.

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