Academic mentor program still in need of volunteers


By Justin Criado

The largest mentoring initiative in the region, ‘Be a Middle School Mentor’ needs more volunteers to support Pittsburgh’s youth.

As part of five schools in Northside, the program needs 38 adults to volunteer for local. United Way needs to reach this number by the end of December in order to match each participating student in the Northside with a mentor for the school year.

“Each year, we strive to add new schools to ‘Be a Middle School Mentor’ in order to reach more students,” Damon Bethea, mentoring projects director, United Way of Allegheny County, said. “We need more mentors than ever to show up for our mentees to provide them with guidance, support and to be good listeners.”

While ‘Be a Middle School Mentor’ currently has 263 mentors returning this year, the program is still in need of at least 300 more adults in order to match each student with a mentor. Nearly 2,000 mentees and more than 2,000 mentors have participated in the program since 2009.

An initiative of United Way of Allegheny County, now part of United Way of Southwestern PA, in partnership with Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern PA, ‘Be a Middle School Mentor’ connects adult mentors with middle school students in grades sixth-eighth. Mentors commit one hour a week to their mentees for the school year to do simple, planned activities which help them to set career goals and make positive changes to their grades, attendance and overall academic performance.

Data collected by Pittsburgh Public Schools for the 2014-15 school year revealed that attendance among ‘Be a Middle School Mentor’ participants was nearly 10-percent higher than the attendance rate among all other students.

“I believe that guiding young students in the right direction at an early age can make a significant impact on making full use of their potential to serve themselves and the community,” mentor Awaiz Khansaid said. “As a recent university graduate applying to medical school, I cannot think of a better way to use my time than to provide some guidance for balancing academics and growing up with the challenges of everyday life.”

‘Be a Middle School Mentor’ partner agencies, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, Communities in Schools, Mt. Ararat Community Activity Center and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh are responsible for the execution of the program, matching mentors and mentees and providing on-going support to the participants.

The program is currently recruiting volunteers for the 2015-2016 school year. To find out more, or to sign up to be a mentor, visit the official website.

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