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Celebrate National Mentoring Month and Be Someone Who Matters to Someone Who Matters

by Jason Cascarino   •  

Last fall, I spent 10 Thursday afternoons with Isiah, a student at James A. Gregory Academy, a neighborhood K-8 elementary school in Chicago’s North Lawndale community on the West Side. I became his mentor through Spark’s youth apprenticeship program, and together we engaged in a hands-on learning project – creating a student-focused page for the Spark website. We also did skill-building activities around teamwork, problem solving, goal setting and other success skills.

For me, being a mentor to a young person offered a chance to step out of my comfort zone and develop a bond with not only him but also his community. It also reminded me of the immense impact my own mentors have made in my life, shaping who I am today. It was particularly satisfying to have an opportunity to make a similar difference to someone else.

apprentice sparkThis month I am joining with millions of other mentors to celebrate National Mentoring Month and share how valuable it is to support young adults who need caring role models. As CEO of Spark, a national nonprofit organization helping underserved students in middle school grades stay engaged, on-track and ready for success in high school and beyond, I have the privilege every day to see the difference that mentors make in the lives of young people. And their impact has been confirmed by research. The Mentoring Effect report in 2014 found that students at risk of not completing high school who had mentors were 55% more likely to be enrolled in college than those who did not have mentors. At Spark, we’ve served more than 2,000 students in four major metropolitan regions over the last five years, and the results are clear: 90% of students mentored through our program enter high school on-track to graduate on time, compared to an average of 70% of their peers.

The students we work with are seventh and eighth graders who are showing signs of disengagement from school. Unfortunately, too many young people at this age show these signs. Young adolescents in some communities lack the guidance, support, resources and access to opportunities to help them navigate these challenging years. According to recent research by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, one in three young people across the country will grow up without a mentor. This is something we can change and when we do, we will see more young people transition successfully into high school, graduate and pursue higher education and/or accomplished careers.

Mentors come from all walks of life and all sectors of our community. They expose young people to new ideas, new experiences and new interests. Check out my personal account of my mentoring experience and see for yourself how rewarding (and manageable!) mentoring can be. As we engage more community members in volunteering as mentors this month, we share a simple message: be someone who matters to someone who matters. You can learn more and volunteer at:

Jason Cascarino

Chief Executive Officer, Spark

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