Mentoring USA puts smiles on kids and their grown-up mentors

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If you're lucky enough to have had a mentor in your life, then you know first hand the support and knowledge this special relationship cultivates. Today more than ever children need the guidance and help of adult mentors as they deal with the usual pressures of growing up in a fast-paced world.

With a top neuroscientist warning that online social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace may be harmful to the development of young people, isn't it reassuring that there are programs like Mentoring USA that are all about the face-to-face. Based in New York City and founded in 1987 by Matilda Raffa Cuomo when she was first lady of the state, Mentoring USA pairs adult mentors with at-risk young people across the country.

"Research increasingly indicates that children who succeed, despite often enormous personal, economic or social obstacles, do so because of caring, competent adults who believe in them," says the organization's website.

Mentoring USA's executive director Stephen Powell says there are over 600 mentors in the program who dedicate at least four hours a month during the academic school year to on-sight mentoring.

Powell has seen a rise in mentor applications and attributes it in part to the economic downturn. "[The economy] is forcing people to have an introspective look at what's truly important. The 'wants' go to the side in a financial crisis."

Powell says that not every mentor/mentee relationship is going to be the right fit and that some can be challenging and require patience and understanding on both sides. But the rewards of mentoring a young person are tremendous, as Richard Pittelli, a vice president in finance at Bloomingdale's can attest.

For 11 years, Pittelli has spent a lunch hour a week mentoring a student in a Manhattan public school, PS 59.
He mentored the same child from the time the mentee was in first grade until he graduated from fifth grade, then Pittelli worked with the child's younger brother from second grade until he graduated from fifth. He says he really got to know the family and attended both brothers' graduations.

"You think you're doing something good for the child, they give you back so much more. When they see you in the cafeteria and they're so happy to show you a spelling test they did well on, you realize how much worth you have. You're a mentor for life, you're just part of their life. I think everyone should do mentoring, especially today."

More than 70 executives from Bloomgindales join Pittelli in mentoring students in PS 59. Bloomingdales is donating $75,000 to the organization and is holding a "Fashionable Fundraiser" in its New York stores on February 25. To learn more about becoming a mentor through Mentoring USA, check out the organizations website, at www.mentoringusa.org.
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