Franklin County Seeks More Mentors

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Franklin County Children Services has 250 children waiting for mentors. And many of those on the list are boys. WOSU reports children services has a need for more male mentors, specifically African American men.

“We go to the bookstore. Every once in a while we go to Gameworks, see movies.”

“Do fun stuff life that,” in the words of this 12-year-old boy. For the last 18 months he has had the fortune to be matched up with a male mentor, a role model of sorts, someone he can go to the park with and toss around a football. Like many children in the Franklin County Children Services system, this child lives in a single-parent household. His mentor helps fill that void.

“It means a lot to me to have, not knowing my father; he’s a good father-figure in my life.”

While children services constantly recruits mentors, the most critical need is for African American men. A quick look at children services volunteer website reflects the need for male mentors. There’s a picture of an African American man sitting with a boy at the top of the screen. And down the page in big, bold type the phrase “100 mentors for 100 boys.”

The program that started last summer to encourage 100 African American men to become mentors. It’s part of children services’ campaign for its Simba program directed by Steve Jones.

“Twenty-three years ago, one of the workers here at Franklin County Children Services saw the need for African American mentors because we had a disproportionate number of African American boys in our system, and we only had a couple of African American men.” Jones said.

Simba, which means “young lions” in Swahili, matches black men with black boys. Almost a year later, the program has reached two-thirds of its goal. And Jones said if they could recruit 100 men, there’s always another 100 boys potentially waiting to become involved.

“There’s a desperate need. There’s a desperate need.”

Franklin County Children services has four programs with 489 mentors. Fewer than a third are men.

“Men, in general, aren’t, by nature, nurturing. We’ll do anything for you one time. We’ll paint your house; we’ll fix your car. So a lot of times we have to let men know that they’re needed to mentor our African American boys and just boys in general.”

Time issues and past legal troubles could be reasons men do not become a mentors. Mentors are required to make a six month commitment and see the children at least twice a month. And Jones said legal issues are handled on a case-by-case basis.

Megan Stevens oversees volunteer services. Stevens said recent recruitment efforts have been successful with an about 100 new volunteers in the past 18 months.

“The push really is for Simba because we do serve a lot of African American boys in our system, and we do want to match them with mentors within the community. And so I think that not only are we actively trying to recruit men out there, of every race, but we’re also trying to provide a focus specifically on African American men.”

Stevens said many times women mentors request a female child because they feel they have more in common with them. Statistically the agency serves more boys.

“It is challenging. We have lots of boys who do want to have a mentor, whether they are a female or a male. And so we do encourage people to think about that.”

When asked if the boys are being forgotten Simba director Steve Jones said he doesn’t think so.

“I don’t think that they’re being left behind; it’s just there’s a greater need. Because the ones that are being served are being served with quality mentors.”

Mark Jackson is one of those mentors. He’s been involved with Simba for about four years with the same child. Jackson said he watched the child mature into a young man, and has seen the teenager’s self-esteem bloom.

“For someone to say you can make it, you can do it, whether you’re in foster care or wherever. There are some people who believe in you and support you.” Jackson said mentoring is a gift for both the child and the volunteer.

“The way that men leave places better than we found them is by encouraging and building. By reaching out and giving back. And in my opinion, mentoring is the gift that keeps on giving.”