A mentor is someone who teaches or advises a younger person with less experience. January is National Mentoring Month in the United States.
Some mentoring programs connect adults with children who need help. Researchers say mentoring can reduce drug and alcohol use, and violence among young people.
In Southern California, a nonprofit group called School on Wheels has volunteers who tutor children from homeless families. Experts estimate that one in every 50 children in the country is homeless at some time during the year. They might live in shelters or weekly hotels or abandoned buildings. They might live on the streets. They might live anywhere but a permanent home.
Sinead Chilton is a marketing consultant for School on Wheels. She moved from London to the United States. She says she was surprised to learn how big the problem was.
“When I first moved here ten years ago and I heard about School on Wheels, I didn’t even consider the fact that there were homeless children in America. And then when I realized that there were 1.6 million homeless children in America, it just floored me.”
Ms. Chilton has worked with School on Wheels for more than six years. She still remembers the first student she tutored. She met with her every week at a local church. The church gave shelter to people on winter nights. The girl slept on the floor.
“It just struck me as just so devastating and just how can you focus on school and how can you even think about homework when those are the circumstances that you’re living in?”
A retired teacher named Agnes Stevens started School on Wheels eight years ago. She wanted to help homeless children stay in school. The group now has more than 1000 volunteers.
Each year they tutor as many as 2000 students. The group also gives services to other children, including backpacks and school supplies.
Sinead Chilton says School on Wheels also helps parents to put their children in school and helps parents with the educational system.
“A lot of times, homeless children’s families are in chaos and homework is the last thing that parents want to be worrying about.”
The Harvard School of Public Health and the National Mentoring Project started National Mentoring Month in 2002. Ms. Chilton says she hopes more people will volunteer to help children.
“I think it’s so important for people that want to make a difference in their community to look at where the needs are. And the most vulnerable members of our community are homeless children.”