Finding A Way: PATH mentors changing lives of at-risk children

Published on Friday, 20 December 2013 20:36 - Written by By Coshandra Dillard cdillard@tylerpaper.com

Ten-year-old Jaliyah Orange is excited to have a mentor through a community-based program at People Attempting to Help.

After her match to 22-year-old Livia Petty, the young girl joked around with her newly matched mentor as if they’d known each other for some time. It was all giggles, magic tricks and rabbit ears between the two.

Mark Richardson, coordinator for PATH’s Bev’s Kids Reach, and Jaliyah’s mother, Jackie, could not have been more pleased by the pairing.

Bev’s Kid Reach — named after late Beverly Beaird, who was a teacher and longtime supporter of PATH — is an expansion of the agency’s previous mentoring program for at-risk children ages 6 to 14 in Smith County.

There are about 15 matches in any given cycle and six children are on the waiting list for mentors. Last year, 48 children enrolled in the program.

The program aims to nurture children’s self-esteem, social skills and improve academic performance.

According to Big Brother, Big Sister figures, children who are mentored are 46 percent less likely to do drugs, 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol and are 86 percent more likely to go to college.

Mentees and mentors are matched according to their personalities and interests.

Richardson said Ms. Petty and Jaliyah’s match was “God-led” and was “one of the most emotional matches” yet.

This is the first time Ms. Petty, 22, has mentored. She learned of the program through a ministry fair.

“I hope Jaliyah would remember me as a good example,” Ms. Petty said. “I hope that she takes things away from our relationship and applies it to her life in a positive way.”

A teacher for a Youth With a Mission school, she thought mentoring would be a good way to foster her love for children.

“I love working with kids,” she said. “I think it’s something God has gifted me in.”

Jaliyah is the third of six children in the Orange family. Her mother signed five of her children up for the program.

“I was looking for someone that could give them a little extra something that I couldn’t give them,” she said. “I was looking for someone to give them something positive to do.”

Mrs. Orange has formed a bond with her children’s mentors, as well as Richardson, who has constant contact with her.

“It feels like family,” she said. “You don’t feel like you’re meeting strangers.”

Yolanda Durham, former teacher and mother of two adult children, also is finding the program fulfilling. She just began mentoring a few weeks ago and is enjoying getting back into the swing of guiding children. Her mentee, 10-year-old Hailie Shears, is a sports fanatic like herself.

Mrs. Durham said mentors should be make the family comfortable and not look to replace a parent. She said it’s also important to set a good example at all times, as an adult is a mirror to the children.

“We can make a difference one child at a time,” Mrs. Durham said. “If every person just takes one child and takes time in their lives, if we show them the time, they will do the same when they grow up.”

In addition to the mentoring program, PATH has offered numerous services since its establishment in 1984. This includes a food pantry, prescription assistance, PATH Community Homes and utility assistance.

“We’re like a safety net,” Richardson said. “No matter how bad things get people know someone is here to graciously provide for their needs the best they can.”