Mentoring program coming to area schools

Published on Saturday, 11 January 2014 21:28 - Written by By Emily Guevara, eguevara@tylerpaper.com

Yeisel had a history of daily fights on campus, a family of many people who failed to become all they could and parents who were worried their daughter might not live to see her future. She ended up graduating from high school and making the university honor roll with a 4.0 GPA.

Kayon Brantley spent many years in foster care with his six brothers. His mother died early in his life. His father was in prison, but Kayon wanted his life to be different. Earning a 4.0 in high school and a full ride to the University of California, Berkeley, he made it happen.

These success stories have at least one thing in common, the Ambassadors of Compassion Leadership Program.

Both students participated in the program, which aims to positively influence young people and equip them for success in life. That program is coming to East Texas later this month with a kickoff event on Jan. 30 at the CrossWalk Conference Center at Green Acres Baptist Church.

The program is in need of adults who are willing to serve as coaches to the area high school students involved.

It’s a 14-week endeavor. The Tyler business community is supporting it financially, but it’s up to individuals within the community to help make it happen.

After the kickoff, the high school students who are involved will start a 12-week journey in which they will hear about the four principles of LIFE: labor, influence, forgiveness and experiences.

Each week people from the community, who have agreed to be coaches, will go to the participating campuses and work with small groups of 10 to 12 students for about one hour.

During that time, the students will watch a video in which they will hear life lessons related to the topic of the day, one of the LIFE principles.

The coach helps to facilitate that time and the students also keep a journal to help process their thoughts and experiences throughout the program.

The goal is to equip students with the character and mindset they need to successfully walk through life.

Cindy Rudd, Texas director for Lift Up America’s Ambassadors of Compassion, said it’s that character piece that educators say is missing from the schools.

Locally, the Tyler Area Business-Education Council and its members have been instrumental in getting the program here.

Although it was Ms. Rudd who introduced the idea, the business community has come behind it with organizations and businesses agreeing to support it financially.

The cost is about $30 per student for the curriculum, plus the expenses related to the kickoff event and Honor Event at the end.

Christi Khalaf, executive director of the Tyler Area Business-Education council, said schools are doing a great job of teaching students the academic skills they need, but students often lack certain life skills necessary to become productive members of a community.

She said students who are economically disadvantaged often have a harder time learning these soft skills because they don’t necessarily have someone at home teaching these to them.

“With a large proportion of our students in that situation, we think it’s really important for the quality of our community and economy to foster some of those skills in these kids that wouldn’t get it otherwise,” she said.

Ms. Rudd said about 1,000 East Texas high school students could be involved in the program, and about 300 members of the business community are expected to participate in some way.

Todd Thoene, 41, a private investigator who lives in Flint, is one of the people who has agreed to be a coach for the program.

Thoene said he got involved because he spent 20 years as a deputy with the Smith County Sheriff’s Office and also worked for the District Attorney’s office. During that time, he saw kids drop out of high school and not get some of the resources and skills they needed to succeed in life.

He said he is supportive of programs that will help keep students out of the criminal justice system and better themselves.

Thoene said the coach’s responsibility is not to teach, but to be there for the students and help them open up and talk about what they are learning.

“It’s more a mentor than a teacher,” he said.

Ms. Rudd said the East Texas cities will be the first in Texas to have this program, which has been active in California, Idaho, Arizona, Washington, Hawaii, Nevada, Ohio and Oregon. Schools in Illinois, Florida and Maryland also are slated to have the program.

Ms. Rudd plans for this to be the start of a continued presence in East Texas schools and is optimistic the program will have powerful effects on students here just as it has elsewhere.

“It’s incredible what we’ve seen,” she said.