Resolving to Make a Difference this Year? Become a Mentor for Promising Local Students


Every Friday, UCF student  and mentor Arthur Richards spends lunchtime reading with Jefferson, a bright, energetic first-grader who looks forward to their visits.       

When Arthur Richards signed up to become a mentor at Palmetto Elementary School, he knew he could make a difference for students who needed a little extra help and attention. But what he didn’t count on is how much he, himself, would gain from the experience.

Arthur, 21, is one of dozens of local volunteers who are participating in the Interfaith School Turnaround Pilot – or IFSTP ‒ a national initiative that United Way is leading at Palmetto, Richmond Heights and Catalina elementary schools, as well as Memorial Middle School.

As a UCF student, paralegal professional and founder of Team Brand New, a local nonprofit serving needy children, Arthur has a hectic schedule. But one thing he always makes time for is his weekly visit with Jefferson, a bright, energetic first-grader.

Building character and more
“Jefferson is an amazing kid, who comes from a difficult family situation,” said Arthur, who spends a few hours every Friday reading with Jefferson, helping with homework and just getting to know him.

“One of the things we do is role play,” Arthur added. “It gives us a chance to talk about what you do when you find money on the ground, how you react if someone calls you a mean name or how you handle other challenging situations.”

The way Arthur sees it, these lessons are invaluable. “You can teach a child how to read, but you can’t teach character,” he said. “It’s something they observe and learn from role models, which unfortunately are often lacking for many kids like Jefferson.”

Celebrating mentors
During National Mentoring Month in January, United Way is celebrating mentors like Arthur who selflessly share their time and talent to help shape the life of a child.

“Mentoring works,” said Lorri Highet, Director of the United Way Volunteer Resource Center. “Research shows that children who are mentored are more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in college, become active members of their communities and view the future in a positive way.”

While Jefferson may be too young to understand the big picture, he certainly looks forward to seeing his new friend. Recently, when Arthur arrived at the school cafeteria to meet Jefferson, he couldn’t find him in the sea of faces.  Then suddenly, out of the blue, Jefferson came running across the room, dove at his feet and gave him a great big hug around the knees.

It’s a moment Arthur will never forget. “When you see how happy the kids are to see you, it’s so heartwarming,” he said. “I’ve had the chance to go back and thank teachers and people who’ve helped me over the years.  Wouldn’t it be great to see these students in 10 or 15 years and hear them say, ‘This is where I am in my life right now. Thank you for helping me get here?’”

For more information about IFSTP and how you can become a mentor, click here.

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