Throw me somethin’: Volunteers sought to mentor children _lowres

Photo provided by St. Margaret’s at Mercy — Velma Harper turned 100 on Dec. 25.

January is National Mentoring Month, and Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans is recruiting mentors for two programs helping local at-risk children, including those who have been incarcerated and who have parents or guardians who have been incarcerated.

Mentoring Children of Promise pairs children ages 4 to 18 with quality long-term mentors, and Positive Pathways helps reintegrate young people ages 14 to 24 who have been involved in the juvenile justice system.

“Louisiana has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation,” said Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans program manager Sherlyn Hughes. “Statistics show that 70 percent of children with a parent in prison will one day find themselves behind bars.”

Volunteers of America programs “are working to change these odds and also help struggling youth get their lives back on track,” Hughes said.

The need for male mentors is especially great in the New Orleans area, and Volunteers of America hopes to find at least 50 new program volunteers. Eligible mentors must be 18 and able to pass a background check, and are required to meet with the young person they are paired with for at least eight hours per month for at least one year. Dependability and a passion for helping young people are key traits, Hughes said.

Young people in the Mentoring Children of Promise program are either in the court system, or have an incarcerated parent or a parent in the military. Those in the Positive Pathways Program have been incarcerated in the juvenile justice system. Participants are typically from high-poverty, high-crime areas.

“When I started with my mentee three years ago, I had simply hoped to make a difference in the life of a child,” said Mentoring Children of Promise program mentor Michael Hickerson. “But I did not realize how much this experience would change my life.” The youngster “teaches me new things every day, and I am so grateful to be a part of his life,” Hickerson said.

For its Mentoring Children of Promise program, Volunteers of America partners with churches and community organizations to recruit eligible young people and mentors in seven parishes — Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. Bernard, St. Rose, St. Charles and St. John. The program also offers a broad network of social services and community supports to caregivers to help families become stronger and more successful.

The Positive Pathways Program also partners with community agencies to ensure that appropriate services are being provided, including workforce development, educational interventions, mentoring/coaching, legal services, service learning, health care, substance abuse counseling and treatment, and financial aid. The program serves youth in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes.

To learn about becoming a mentor and for information about local Volunteers of America programs, visit www.voagno.org or call (504) 836-8701.

Happy 100

Congratulations to Velma Harper, who celebrated her 100th birthday on Christmas Day. A resident of St. Margaret’s at Mercy, a Mid-City residence for the elderly, Harper is the mother of two daughters and two sons, and a son who is deceased. She likes attending church at St. Margaret’s and prays every day and before every meal.

Harper enjoys singing, sweets and collecting things. She loves her independence and uses her walker to move around the residence. Before coming to St. Margaret’s five years ago, she was a sitter at Chateau and Provident homes.

Lynne Jensen writes about New Orleans community events and people. Contact her at jensencolumn@gmail.com.