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Men become mentors for students

Choices stressed in ‘Men of Distinction’

WARREN — Miles “Jay” Johnson hopes the student he mentors walks away from the experience with a better understanding of the power he has over his own life.

Johnson, a community organizer with Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, is among a group of men from the Warren community who have signed on to mentor boys in grades 6 -8 who attend Warren’s Jefferson PK-8 School.

“I just want to impress upon him, for him to come away from this experience knowing that no matter what circumstances you’re born into, or that you get into in life, you have the power to overcome your circumstances and lead a good, productive life, to shape your own destiny,” Johnson said.

This past fall, counselors at the school launched the “Men of Distinction” mentorship program that pairs specially trained men from the community with the students. Johnson was paired with eigth-grader Malik Goliday.

On Thursday, the two joined other students and their mentors in the school library to discuss a new community service project in partnership with Veteran’s Haven, an outreach center with a transitional housing program in Warren that serves homeless veterans.

The mentorship program is looking to collect food, clothing and personal hygiene items for the veterans.

“This is a way to do something positive for these veterans, and the community as a whole,” said the Rev. Avan Odom of Friendship Baptist Church and a program mentor.

Brandi S. Parker, Veteran’s Haven program manager, told the group veterans make up about 11 percent of the country’s homeless adults.

“It’s wonderful that these students and their mentors want to help us this way, to do this project to help our veterans,” said Parker. “It says a lot about who they are and the concerns they have for others and our veterans in need.”

“Men of Distinction” is being funded through a $2,000 grant from the Turning Foundation. The goal is for mentors to meet weekly one-on-one with their mentees.

“Sometimes they participate in various activities, but often it’s about communication and provides opportunities for the students to have positive male influences in their lives, men they can talk to and feel safe confiding in,” said Eleanna Vlahos-Hall, middle school counselor at Jefferson.

Topics of discussion can include grades, school behavior or peer pressure, Vlahos-Hall said.

Vlahos-Hall wrote the grant application and then reached out to collaborate with the elementary school counselor, Suzanne Goodyear, and the building liaisons, Tia Phillips and Sherry Arnold. The counselors check in on program participants to ensure positive interactions are taking place and that the partnership between each mentor and mentee is a good fit.

The mentorship program serves as another example of Warren City Schools’ Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) efforts put into action by encouraging the development of self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life success; using social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships; and demonstrating decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school and community contexts.

“Everything we do in the 6-8 pod at Jefferson is intentionally pushed through the lens of Social Emotional Learning. Research shows and Jefferson’s three-year trend data proves that when SEL is taught and reinforced, discipline infractions decrease and achievement increases,” said Joshua Guthrie, grade 6-8 principal.

“Our focus here is on the whole child and we identified that many of our students would benefit from mentoring. A positive relationship with a mentor can change the overall outcome of a student’s perception of school and community,” he said. “Show me a successful person and they will be able to tell you how they were influenced by a mentor.”

As part of the “Men of Distinction” program, several in-school gatherings are being planned, including a spring banquet for mentees and their families, with their mentors, and an end-of-year trip to see the Cleveland Indians.

Goliday said he’s already participated in several activities he hadn’t experienced before meeting his mentor.

“It’s letting me learn new things,” Goliday said. “Like boxing and chess. And talking to (Johnson) gives me a new perspective.”

Johnson said his goal is to set a good example.

“I want to encourage (Goliday),” he said. “He has all the power to not use circumstances as an excuse and to not blame others for his choices. He has the power to make the right choices. I hope he sees that power within himself.”

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