by Steven Kissinger
January is National Mentorship Month, and there’s plenty of cause for celebration at The Immokalee Foundation: Mentorship is an integral component of the organization’s educational programs.
The adult mentors who work with Immokalee High School students provide caring, trusted links to the world beyond the young students’ daily experiences. “Many of these students don’t have the luxury of going out of town,” said Noemi Perez, TIF’s program services director. “For the most part, they attend school, go home, and many of them work. Mentors provide a different aspect. While they talk to the students about real life responsibilities – the importance of getting good grades, how to manage time effectively – the students really benefit from talking to someone about the larger world.”
Those topics of conversation even can be unrelated to school. “When our students are matched up with someone with a similar interest, whether sports or a career choice or something else, it is an enriching, enlightening experience,” said Marcia Bonilla, TIF’s student services coordinator for Take Stock in Children. “And this becomes someone the students can rely on. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Joseph Sciortino has been a mentor for The Immokalee Foundation for two years. He spoke at a recent TIF event, sharing what he believes makes a good mentor. “What I have found is that being a mentor is not so much a function of the brain as it is a function of the heart,” he said. “If you are a caring, committed and passionate individual, you have all the ingredients for being a successful mentor.”
It’s the same message conveyed by the late poet Maya Angelou, who was a supporter of National Mentorship Month, now entering its 15th year. “You must care,” she said. “You don’t have to know how many square miles are in Idaho, you don’t need to know what is the chemical makeup of chemistry … Know what you know and care about the person.”
Angelou had a mentor in Mrs. Flowers, the first person to take her to a library. Actor Martin Sheen had “Father Al,” who reminded him always to ask himself, “Who are you?” and “Why are you here?” Oprah Winfrey had her fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Duncan, who taught her not to fear being smart.
And Jose Hernandez of Immokalee had Sciortino. Hernandez is now a student at Florida SouthWestern State College, having graduated from Immokalee High School in May with high honors – and a year of college credit. Those achievements make Sciortino proud. So does the fact that Hernandez still checks in with him regularly, and the two meet for lunch sometimes. “The fact that he stays in touch with me, I feel I am important in his life,” said Sciortino. “The significant part is that I’m helping him be successful. He’s a hardworking young man, and he’s had a lot of obstacles thrown at him. His family doesn’t have any money, and they speak very little English. But he has set high goals for himself.”
Sciortino is now mentoring Immokalee High School junior Osbaldo Vasquez through his final years of high school.
The Immokalee Foundation provides a range of education programs that focus on building pathways to success through college and post-secondary preparation and support, mentoring and tutoring, opportunities for broadening experiences and life skills development leading to economic independence. To learn more about TIF, volunteering as a mentor or for additional information, call 239.430.9122 or visit www.immokaleefoundation.org.
Steven Kissinger, executive director of The Immokalee Foundation, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.