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Building bridges

"Building bridges" Continued...

Issue: "Tilting at turbines," July 17, 2010

Mentoring relationships require patience. Mentors get a few hours a week with their matches, and the task of trying to counter a hostile home environment can appear overwhelming. LIYM rigorously screens volunteers to avoid mentor burn out and only accepts 30 percent of volunteer applications. "You got to see it as a long-term thing," Cragg says. "In our society everything has to be instant. You're here to be faithful, pray up, show up, and not judge the value of time by what you see the kid say or do."

The challenges show why mentors have a powerful role to play in a child's life. Debbie Prezzano, who oversees LIYM's mentoring activities on the island's North Shore, believes that mentors have a unique ability to show a child God's love: "It's like a game of telephone. The telephone game starts out with an original message and by the end of the line who knows what you get. Mentoring cuts out all these middle messages that twist and confuse the kids and gets them right next to the real, original message."

Perry Castronovo can testify to that. He was paired with a mentor, Jim Dean, when he was 9. Castronovo spent his childhood living first with an alcoholic mother and then, after she died, with a grandfather who regularly called him worthless. "When you grow up and are told that you are no good your whole life, you start to believe it," Castronovo says. "When Jim came into my life he took me away from the situation."

Over the course of a 19-year relationship, Dean stayed with him even as Castronovo descended into drug abuse. When all his family and friends melted away, Dean remained. Now 28, a muscular plumber in a baseball cap, Castronovo chokes up when he remembers how he turned to Dean for help: "Jim was waiting for me to tell him." Castronovo has been clean and sober for four years and the two remain close: "Jim never failed me. He never did anything wrong by me."

That's the long view. In the short term, the appeal of being mentored is less complicated. Debbie Pollard has been mentoring 9-year-old My'aysia for two years: My'aysia says, "It's just fun to do stuff. I don't want to sit at home and have nothing to do." Pollard smiles when she hears that. "I'm trying to give her a Christian worldview," Pollard says. Both are seeing that there's always plenty to do.
Click here to listen to WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky discuss with Alisa Harris the Northeast regional finalists.
To view a video profile of Long Island Youth Ministry and of each of the other 2010 regional finalists and to read profiles of finalists and winners from 2006 through 2009, visit WORLDmag.com/compassion.

Long Island Youth Mentoring Factbox


Location: Long Island, N.Y.
Founded: 1981
Mission: One-to-one mentoring for at-risk youths, pairing churches with schools and foster homes to create mentoring relationships
Size: 10 full-time staff, 300 mentoring pairs; programs in eight schools and 23 foster homes
Budget: $700,000 per year
website: www.liyouthmentoring.com

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