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Mentoring reaches out to help children

All children are entitled to a beautiful life, a bright future and loving parents to help them achieve their dreams.

But not all children are so lucky.

Some are abandoned by parents, or lost because the adults were physically abusive or neglectful, addicted to drugs or alcohol, caught breaking the law or other problems.

To children, it doesn’t always matter what the reason was, or that it wasn’t their fault. They still face an uncertain future, and perhaps even fear they’ll travel the same path because it is somehow “in their blood.”

Mentoring has been one way of reaching out to abandoned, neglected or even wayward children. “Mentoring can have a huge impact,” says Jim Wills, Regional Development Director of Farmington Children’s Home in Farmington. “It has been shown in other places that young people in troubling, high-risk situations, if they have mentors, their lives can really stabilize. A mentor can help them start setting some goals and attain them. It gives them some stability. It doesn’t mean it will always be perfect, but it means there is someone there who cares.”

There is a general shortage of mentors for children in various programs in St. Francois County and that has prompted Wills and other members of the Youth Opportunities and Education Group of Project Sunlight to stage a free public forum about mentoring at the Mineral Area College Theatre.

The forum, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Jan. 29, will show the vital need for mentors and discuss what is involved in becoming one. Questions from the audience will be answered and resources provided to those interested in helping a child achieve success.

“We are not looking for folks who necessarily have a background or experience in mentoring,” Wills said. “This is for folks who have questions or may have considered the possibility of being a mentor, or maybe folks who have some time on their hands and are looking for something good or some responsible activities to be involved in.”

Male mentors are particularly needed, Wills added. Most of the mentors are women, but many of the youths are male. A good male role model would be ideal.

“We really hope business and professional men who could invest a few hours a week in a worthwhile and meaningful activity will attend,” Wills said.

The forum organizers have put together a lively, entertaining presentation. A brief skit from the drama team of First Church of God in Leadwood will start things. There will be a short video as well as three experienced speakers.

They are Bruce Williams, a mentor with Friends of the Family; Tammy Bracken, a mentor with Farmington Children’s Home and Bill Simmons, who was successfully mentored as a youth.

David Braun, founder of Friends of the Family, will moderate.

Four local agencies with mentoring programs will be available to answer questions and offer information. If you would like to download a flier and post it in your community, the Web site is .

Project Sunlight will also have materials available at the forum, including ideas on how to mentor a child or teen.

Project Sunlight hosted a series of four public forums in 2006 to educate the public about various aspects of child abuse and neglect in the area. This fifth forum is a call to action. It represents something concrete people can do to help prevent child abuse and neglect in their communities.

Project Sunshine began in 2003 in response to high rates of child abuse highlighted in the annual Kids Count report. St. Francois County was at the bottom of Missouri’s 115 counties on its child abuse and neglect numbers in the 2002 report.

The non-profit group is led by a volunteer board of directors and has six working committees. In addition to the youth opportunities and mentoring committee on which Wills is chairman, there is faith community, health/mental health and substance abuse, public awareness, economic and transportation concerns and alternative care.

Volunteers are being sought to participate in the effort. The committees as a whole meet at least twice annually and anyone is welcome to attend at that time. The next meeting is from 4-6 p.m. March 11 at the MAC North College Center. Anyone is welcome to attend.

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