17 AUGUST 2004

Some single parents seek mentors for their children

Anita Simmons was excited. It was Friday night, and she was waiting at Fayetteville Urban Ministry to meet her mentor, Keisha Blackwell.

'I want to go places and have someone to talk to, said Anita, who is 11.

Blackwell's one-year commitment is to spend at least two hours a week with Anita.

'I have a heart for children, said Blackwell, who works for child protective services in Harnett County. ''I live in Cumberland County, and I wanted to reach out and give back as far as helping children."

Blackwell is the mother of two young girls, and this is her first try at mentoring.

'I'm going to find out what she likes to do, and we're going to learn together, she said.

With the meeting, Anita joined her brother, Jarad, and her sister, Shaniqua, as a member of the ministry's Find-A-Friend program.

Kevin Wester is Jarad's mentor.
The children's mother, Clotilda Cockerham, described Wester as 'like a dad even though he only gets to see Jarad every other weekend because Wester works two jobs and is a newlywed.

'Since he can't be with his father like he wants to be, Kevin's like a father figure, Cockerham said.

Wester plays basketball with Jarad, who is 12, and has taken him skating and bowling.

'It's just fun to talk about things, Jarad said. 'I learn a lot from him.

But it's not all fun and games. Cockerham says Wester is also trying to teach her son how to be a man.
Wester, who has been Jarad's mentor for eight months, puts Jarad to work mowing lawns and washing cars.
As a result of Wester's influence, Cockerham said, Jarad is beginning to take on more responsibility around the house, including cleaning his room and being more obedient.
Last year, his mom said, Jarad's grades started dropping. Since Wester has become his mentor, Jarad's grades have improved.

Cockerham recommends the program to other single parents.

'If a child is in a single-parent home like mine, they need a mentor, she said. 'It's like having that father figure, and with the girls, it's extra help for me, it's like they have another mom.

Shaniqua, who is 9, is no longer in the program, but she keeps in touch with her former mentor, Adriane Hoskins.

'She taught me a lot of stuff, Shaniqua said.

Hoskins checked up on Shaniqua at school as well. Her mother noticed a positive change in Shaniqua as a result of Hoskins' attention.

'She was a big influence, Cockerham said. 'She was able to come out to school and eat lunch with her when I couldn't. That meant a lot to her. She really helped her a lot.

Children needing help
Experts say role models are essential for children being raised by single parents.

的t is real important because mom can only be mom. She can't be dad; dad is somebody else, said Bob Searle, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, who works with families and children at Cape Fear Behavioral Center.

In boys being raised without a father, 'we are seeing an increase in violence, Searle said.
For example, children are being left alone to play with violent video games, Searle said.
'Children are being exposed to the violence of the games with nothing to challenge it, he said. 'The kids are left with electronic stimulation with no morality, no sincerity or humanity mixed into the game.
With half of today's children being raised in broken homes, Searle said, single mothers have very tough jobs.
'They have to make arrangements for their kids to find positive role models, he said. 'Whether it's coaches, neighbors, family members, it's going to have to be done with much more effort. It may be inconvenient for mom, but she is going to have to seek out (mentors).
The community also needs to find more ways to mentor children, Searle said.
''This has to be gradual," he said. ''Just like the breakup of the American family was a long time coming, we as a society must encourage men to get back involved with their children. The men are out there."

Johnny Wilson, director of Find-A-Friend, said some of those men can be found in his program, which is working with about 30 children.

'Who better can teach a male to be a male than a positive male role model? Wilson asked. 鉄ingle moms with boys need a positive role model. Girls also need positive role models.

Find-A-Friend provides the juvenile court system a program to help deter youth ages 6 to 19 who are involved in or at risk of becoming involved in the court system. The program provides them with positive role models and guidance in identifying problems and setting goals, Wilson said.

摘veryone needs some help, he said. 'We try to match them up with someone who shows an interest in them. That one-on-one time is so valuable. The attention makes them feel good about themselves.

Dr. Robin Jenkins, a psychologist for Cumberland County CommuniCare, also helps families that have youngsters who are at risk.
撤art of what we do is try to strengthen the family by reducing risk factors, he said.
的f an at-risk child comes to our assessment, for example, mom is working several jobs, we'll try to supplement that support network.

Changing needs
Research shows that at different developmental stages, children look to different role models for different skills, Jenkins said.

'When they are younger, they have basic needs, he said. 展hen they get older, they tend to look to adult role models for advice, confidence-building, social support, guidance, coaching, counseling, things that are more cognitive and geared to total life perspective.

That's where the importance of positive role models comes in, Jenkins said.

'The more positive role models that match up well with those needs, the more positive the outcomes for us as we turn into young adults.

The theory behind mentoring is that children learn by observing and copying what they observe, Jenkins said.

'Social learning theory tells us that if you put positive role models in place, the chance of learning increases significantly, he said.

Mentoring works, Wilson added. 的 believe in it 100 percent, he said.

Lisa Snedeker
17 August 2004

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