Summit underscores importance of mentors

ROCHESTER — City Councilwoman Elaine Spaull kicked off the inaugural Rochester Mentoring Summit with a keynote address that offered the "Top 10 Ways to Love the World."

She presented her list during the daylong event, which also included an open house and agency fair at Compeer Rochester on Jan. 24.

"These are life lessons that can be (practiced) anywhere," and some were picked up by the teens served by the Center for Youth, where she is executive director.

Spaull’s rules include celebrating the happiness of others, being open to the small wonders and miracles of life, being stewards of the environment, being kind, showing affection and a sense of humor, displaying a generosity of spirit, and complimenting one’s loved ones.

She urged the 40 people who attended the summit to use the lessons as a means to provide social and emotional support to children, such as the ones served by the Center for Youth — including some who are homeless.

"The young people I work with are resilient, determined … creative," she said. "The only antidotes available for violence, poverty, sadness and trauma are love, compassion and caring. And if those natural supports don’t exist for them, it’s up to us. We have children in our homeless shelter who don’t have one caring adult in their lives."

And that is where her life lessons come into play, she explained.

The number one rule: "Practice gratitude," Spaull said.

"We have so much to be thankful for in the community," she said. "Even our most troubled youth have something good going for them. As you work with young people, we want to make sure that there is an understanding of the kinds of things you can do for them. I always tell my kids, ‘It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.’ "

Especially when working with children who have suffered trauma, mentors have a great opportunity to prove that last point and show them the path to the happy childhood that is possible for them, Spaull noted.

Sara Passamonte said that she also knows firsthand the benefits of a consistent mentoring relationship in building up self-esteem and improving academics for youths through her work as Compeer’s youth services program manager.

She added that the summit’s inception also had special significance because it was inspired by Jeffrey Newland, the former executive director of Big Brothers/Big Sisters. He was found shot and killed last fall in Pittsford and his murder remains unsolved, Passamonte said.

Newland also was president of the Rochester Mentors collaboration, of which Compeer is a member, she said. Through that network, Passamonte said that Compeer was able to put the program together and hold it during January, which is "National Mentoring Month."

"A caring adult outside (a child’s) normal circle can be very beneficial," she added, noting that it even helps to improve attendance and graduation rates.

For the inaugural summit, the goal also was to connect community leaders to existing mentoring networks and expand the reach of these programs, Passamonte said. Workshops were led by Miranda Wilcox from Thrive Potential and Nelson Portillo from the psychology department at SUNY Brockport.

Thalia Pabon, lead mentor at Ibero-American Action League, said that she brought along her staff members, some of who are new, to network and make those kinds of important community connections.

The Ibero program offers one-on-one support to middle-school students at East High School to set academic and personal goals, she explained. They also provide afterschool activities and take students on field trips, Pabon said.

At times, the mentors also end up supporting the whole family, Pabon noted. For example, after making a recent home visit, she ended up finding clothes, coats, dishes and other items for a family that had just moved from Puerto Rico.

"We helped them with the basics," she said.

And the idea that Spaull raised of being an adult whom kids can count on also is as important as any material things that an agency can provide, Pabon remarked.

"We’re their adult friend and they can confide in us and get advice," she added.

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