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Brookhaven leads way in mentoring

Brookhaven efforts, with the help of one business in particular,are helping to “set the standard” for a new statewide youthmentoring program, said Attorney General Mike Moore during a visithere Tuesday.

Moore said Brookhaven has more people signed up to be mentorsthan any of the other areas chosen as regional centers for the newBig Brothers-Big Sisters mentoring program. Helping the city’stotal is the Wal-Mart Distribution Center, which hopes to have 100employees volunteer as mentors for the program.

“We are very proud of what’s happening here,” Moore said duringa press conference at the center Tuesday afternoon.

Local Coordinator Maxine Jones said well over 100 children havebeen referred to the mentoring program. Regarding mentors, she saidabout 20, plus the applicants from Wal-Mart, have signed up andabout 50 applications are pending.

“We’re continually having more children referred,” Jones said.”We want to have more mentors than children because we don’t wantany kids waiting to be matched.”

Brent Hinton, distribution center manager, said the program hasreceived a very positive response, and employees are excited aboutthe chance to help area children. With a good feeling from helpingothers, Hinton said employees also expect to benefit from theirinteraction with the children.

“We look at it as a positive opportunity and a reward for us,”Hinton said.

Mississippi is the first state to implement a statewidementoring program in every school district. Big Brothers-BigSisters is a partnership between the Mississippi Department ofEducation, the state legislature and his office, Moore said.

“It’s the best mentoring program anywhere in the country,” Mooresaid.

Moore said it is “smart money” to support mentoring programsbecause of their impact on children. He said Big Brothers-BigSisters is a proven program that helps prevent crime, improveeducation, keeps kids away from drugs and alcohol and reduces teenpregnancy.

Echoing Hinton’s comments earlier, Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnettsaid adults will also gain some positive experiences from theirtime with the children.

“They’ll get as much out of this as the young folks,” Barnettsaid.

Moore and John Relaford, president and chief executive officerof Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Mississippi, said having a companylike Wal-Mart will help with getting other businesses to encouragetheir employees to volunteer.

“This is going to help set the standard for everywhere else inthe state,” Moore said.

Relaford said the center’s involvement was the most excitingthing to happen since formation of the program. He indicated itcould help other companies’ leaders find ways to allow theiremployees to volunteer.

“So many who care and want to help can’t because they’re in jobswhere they can’t get off,” Relaford said.

Moore credited Jones and local school district officials withgiving the program a good start.

“I’m so proud Brookhaven has taken such a leadership role,”Moore said. “It’s great.”

Jones said she would like to challenge other local business andindustries to get involved.

“I just want the whole city to get involved with the program,”Jones said. “It’s so vital to our kids.”

Jones hopes to start the program in January with the firstsessions around the third week of the month. In the program,mentors will work with students during school hours only and theonce-a-week sessions will last about 40 minutes to one hour.

Mentors and students will be matched based on similar interestsand the mentor’s ability to help the student, such as in aparticular subject area. However, Jones said she wants the programto be more than a just a tutorial session and for everyone to havepositive experiences.

“It’s not just about academics. It’s much more than that,” Jonessaid.