Standing strong for children in need

Michael Holahan/Staff
Winston Butler (second from right), the president of 100 Black Men of Augusta, stands alongside Calvin Thomas (from left), who is a mentor to Aaron Thomas, 17; and Bryce Adair, 12, who is mentored by Rufus Gates.

Aaron Thomas grew up in a house full of women.

At 15, he had no clue about approaching girls or parallel parking.

His mentor, Calvin Thomas, changed all that two years ago.

"Before I had a mentor, I don't think I realized how much I was missing out on," Aaron said. "He gives me advice when we ride around, and he taught me how to perfect parallel parking."

The A.R. Johnson Health, Science and Engineering Magnet High School senior is one of 40 young black men mentored through 100 Black Men of Augusta.

Mr. Thomas said serving as a male role model is something he's proud to do for Aaron, but he said he wishes his organizations and others could reach more.

"We just need men to be men. They don't have to be doctors or lawyers," he said. "All types of young people need mentors, not just troubled ones."

Another group, Communities in Schools of Augusta-Richmond County, tries to reach those who might not have an outlet at home, Director Mary Crawford said. About 175 pupils from pre-K through 12th grade take part in the program.

"Our youth definitely need someone in their lives to assist in making the right decisions," Ms. Crawford said. "They do not have that one-on-one time. Parents are pretty much working a majority of the time."

More than 75 percent of her pupils come from a single-parent home, Ms. Crawford said.

The need for adult role models outside of the family continues to grow, said Winston Butler, the president of 100 Black Men of Augusta. Problems in the education system and other out-of-class distractions make mentorship programs essential.

"They can help close the gap in education that exists for African-Americans and other racial groups," Mr. Butler said. "Considering the dropout rate and the educational system, we need mentors."

Venus Cain, a mentor and Richmond County school board member, said stressing the need for mentors might fall on deaf ears for some.

"I think we've become a society that's so complacent," she said. "It's like, 'It's not my child, so it's not my issue. I'm not going to deal with it.' "

She began mentoring three young people last year, one of whom was determined to drop out of high school, she said. Tough love and positive reinforcement has helped her turn them around.

Despite their various backgrounds, their needs are generally the same, she said.

"They're not looking for money. They're just looking for your time and to know you love them," Ms. Cain said. "You'd be surprised how far a hug goes."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.

BECOMING A MENTOR

For more information on mentoring with 100 Black Men of Augusta, contact Winston Butler at (706) 364-9007.

For more information on mentoring with Communities in Schools of Augusta-Richmond County, contact Mary Crawford at (706) 774-6600.