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Be a mentor

07/25/02 12:00AM By Cheryl Hanna
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(Host) This summer, commentator Cheryl Hanna has found something that's both easy to do and extremely challenging. It also addresses a serious problem.

(Hanna) Last Sunday night, a few of my neighbors were standing outside of our building, looking distressed. "Be careful when you go in," warned one, "there's a kid passed out in the lobby."

He couldn't have been more than 17 years old. Thin and pale, he was curled up in the fetal position like a toddler who's fallen asleep despite efforts not to. He certainly didn't look dangerous but my neighbors were afraid, and angry, that he'd made it past our security system. No one had called for help.

"We just didn't know what to do," someone said.

I dialed 911, and within a few minutes a police officer arrived, tried to wake him up, and this nameless, faceless kid finally started to return from whatever trip he'd been on. The officer put him in handcuffs, and took him away to wherever the police take kids to detox or sober-up. "It's just summer in the city," one of my neighbors remarked with a hopeless shrug.

In Burlington and Montpelier and towns throughout Vermont, there are countless kids like the one who sought sanctuary in our lobby. They hang out in the park, smoke cigarettes on the corner and sport an attitude. They're the kids that social service providers call the "un-managables." They've run away from or been thrown out of their homes or institutions. It's estimated that two million kids in America live on the streets, although here in Vermont we only tend to see them when the weather is warm.

And let's be honest: these kids are scary. They don't seem to care what could happen to them and they don't trust adults. It's hard to feel compassion for them even though we know that most have been victims of abuse and neglect. By the time they're awakened by a cop in a building that's not their own, there's probably little that anyone can do to save them from themselves.

It's understandable why we may just stare at them, not knowing what to do. But it turns out that there is something that you can do. You can be a mentor. Someone who spends just a few hours a week with a kid being a buddy. You know, bowl, bike, talk. Mentoring programs won't solve all the complex problems these kids have, but they ve been proven to make a difference, one kid at a time.

Sadly, there's a mentor shortage throughout the state. More than 3000 kids in Chittenden County alone need an adult friend, but only about 400 matches have been made so far.

So, in the spirit of putting my time where my mouth is, I signed up to be a mentor. I'll spend just two hours a week for the next year doing cool stuff with a nine year old girl. I'll also get training and ongoing support when my buddy and I need a little help.

Yep - it's summer in the city, and I'm hopeful it's going to be really fun, and really meaningful.

This is Cheryl Hanna

For more information how you can be a mentor, call 1-888-VTMENTOR (886-36867)
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