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A Young Boy Opens a Volunteer's Eyes and Heart

by Danielle A.

One of the most impactful and rewarding ways to serve any community, but particularly my community in Rochester NY, is to mentor a youth. I myself am a mentor in the Mentoring Children of Prisoners Program (a program of Compeer Rochester), which is a federally funded mentoring initiative for youth who have a parent or guardian who is incarcerated.

Through this program I was matched with Tyler, a 5 year old boy with behavioral and emotional challenges due to the instability of having an incarcerated parent and the stigma that comes with it. Having worked with Tyler for over a year and a half now, I can attest to the progress I have seen him make in his trust of others, social skills and also his sense of self-worth.

When I first met Tyler he was ornery and combative and not trusting of strangers. He used inappropriate language and was being kicked out of his daycare facility. Having experienced a lot of trauma early on, Tyler's "misbehaving" is largely a defense mechanism response, he is overly independent and "tests the limits" of any adults he encounters to see how far he can push.

Though it was a struggle at first, (try getting a physically combative 60 lb. 5 yr. old in a car seat by yourself), Tyler eventually warmed up as he began to realize that no matter what he did, I was not going to stop seeing him. As soon as that trust was established, it seemed like a whole new world opened up for me and Tyler. I could see him taking cues from me on how to behave in public, how to be courteous and the power of positivity to get what you want rather than just expecting or demanding it.

I even saw a shift in how he viewed himself. Being a very bright child he had overheard a lot of what was being said about him and his behavior and had begun to internalize those bad things, to the point where he was asking any uniformed official he encountered to “take him to jail because he is a bad boy.” Hearing this I made a conscious effort to compliment Tyler and praise him when he did what was expected of him, and also tell him that getting kicked out was not because he was bad, but because he had made bad choices, choices he could change. I began to see a different understanding in Tyler; he stopped saying a lot of the self-deprecating things he once did and had a much more pleasant demeanor when I was with him. I could see him carrying himself differently as well.

Tyler is still progressing today, though he still has to face challenges most would never fathom for a grown adult, much less a pre-schooler, and yet he still is able to enjoy a trip to the zoo, or his favorite, the fire house with all the big fire trucks. He really is a remarkable boy, and as lucky some would say he is to have me in his life, I would say that I truly am the lucky one to be able to know someone like Tyler, who opens my eyes at the same time that he opens my heart. The saying is true, you CAN be the change, become a mentor!

Be like Danielle and become a mentor. Find an opportunity in your community by searching keyword: "mentor" "at-risk youth"

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