State launches mentor program for at-risk kids

Matilda Cuomo, the governor's mother, will chair a new mentoring program.

The state is seeking mentors to help provide career and life guidance to children who are at risk of failing in school or in foster care across the state. The mentoring program would identify, train, and match hundreds of business-based mentors with students in some of New York’s most challenging elementary and middle schools.

Support for businesses and schools participating in the initiative will come from the state’s 10 Regional Economic Development Councils, where a trained coordinator will be added, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The governor’s mother, Matilda Raffa Cuomo, will chair the the program’s advisory committee.

About 25 percent of students who entered ninth grade in 2009 did not graduate with their peers, but the problem starts much earlier, Cuomo said: 15 percent of elementary schools students have a high risk of chronic absence, in part because they lack a consistent mentoring relationship.

A landmark Public/Private Ventures evaluation of Big Brothers Big Sisters programs showed that students who meet regularly with a mentor are 52 percent less likely than their peers to skip a day of school. Additionally, youth who meet regularly with their mentors are 46 percent less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs and 27 percent less likely to start drinking.

“New York State has a long-standing tradition of giving children access to every opportunity possible to reach their full potential,” said Cuomo, whose father, Gov. Mario Cuomo, created a similar program in 1987. “This mentoring program will give at-risk students the support they need to succeed in school and life. With this program, New York is once again leading by example in securing a brighter future for our children.”

The program will initially target fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders and is expected to expand into middle school as the program develops. Volunteers are encouraged to apply to become a mentor in their community by filling out an application.

The program’s website offers information about available services and mentoring models and resources for volunteers interested in mentoring children in their communities.