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Erika McCready, a Ph.D. student in chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University, spends two hours a week hanging out with 13-year-old Chimere Riley. Ms. McCready enjoys the time the two spend together, she said at the kickoff of Evanston Mentors on Nov. 27. “I’m not from Evanston, and it’s a good way to learn about Evanston. … I guess I’m a role model, too, since I’m in a mostly male field.”
Chimere said Erika is “like a big sister to me. Since she’s an engineer, it’s really cool, because I want to do something [in science].”
The two, one of 89 sets of mentor-student pairs in the McGaw Y’s Project Soar, were among the many with mentoring experience whom Evanston resident David Edelstein invited to the kickoff for Evanston Mentors.
Evanston Mentors is an offshoot of All Our Sons, a program Mr. Edelstein and his wife, Jennie Berkson, funded through Evanston Community Foundation several years ago. Like All Our Sons, this program focuses on the needs of Evanston youth and children but it focuses on both the daughters and sons of Evanston.
“I wanted to do something to enhance mentorship in Evanston,” Mr. Edelstein said. Rather than be a new mentoring program, Evanston Mentors will function something like a clearing house: a place for ‘“agencies looking for mentors, a place to volunteer as a mentor, a place to share best practices. ‘“It’s a collaboration of agencies that already offer mentoring programs,”’ he said.
The name, said Mr. Edelstein, is “an aspiration and a description. It is what we do in Evanston – we mentor our children.”
Mentoring a youth can be as rewarding for the adult as for the youth, the adult speakers said. Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes recounted being mentored as a young mother… A lot of mentoring is letting young people know that they are special.
District 65 Superintendent Dr. Hardy Murphy said, “We are more than just fortunate to be in a community that cares so much about its children. … Mentoring is an opportunity for those who haven’t figured out their future to talk to those of us [who are older] … As they become adults and contribute to the community, they’ll have an opportunity to talk with adults who have done that.”
District 202 Superintendent Dr. Eric Witherspoon said it is “important to mentor kids and support them in every way possible. These are amazing human beings, with so much abundance in their lives – but there is never a moment that young people don’t need adults in their lives. …There is no such thing as too much nurturing [or] too much support for young people. … Each of the partners in the coalition does really important work. We’re really good. We are starting to take that good work to another level – collaboration. We can’t do it alone. It is up to all of us to wrap our arms around the students. …There is no greater … blessing than to be a part of a young person’s life and help them on their way to adulthood.”
Conversely, said Seth Green, executive director of Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.), “every adult needs a mentee.” Y.O.U. began its mentoring program four years ago and has 45 mentor pairs, he said.
Sara Schastok, CEO of Evanston Community Foundation, which provided funding for Evanston Mentors, said, “I believe that we have common interests and can forge common goals from those interests. [This is] Evanston in action.”
Looking at the crowd, McGaw Y Executive Director Bill Geiger said, “I hope that you’ll all pick one person so next time we meet there will be twice as many.”
Art Mollenhauer, CEO of Big Brothers/Big Sisters Chicago, said mentoring is “in all of us. Think of the kids who pull a trigger [and shoot someone]. We can maybe prevent that from happening.” He thanked “Dave for the idea and Sara for the fuel.”