County seeks to fill shortage of mentors

At 13, Iliana Medina felt like she had been set adrift. Kicked out of school for fighting, she was drawn to gangs and craving a role model. She missed her older sisters — one had left home after getting pregnant and another was in and out of jail.

But that was five years ago, and her former life is now barely recognizable, said Medina, now 18. The change, she said, began with mentor Jennifer Ashford.

Matched through Friends for Youth in Redwood City, their relationship turned into an enduring friendship, said Ashford, 28.

From the beginning, the pair spent at least three hours together each week, chatting, going to sporting events and just hanging out. These days, their conversations are focused on the future. Medina, who is now on the honor roll at her high school, plans to attend college to become a probation officer.

Last year, 22 nonprofit mentoring agencies served nearly 1,500 San Mateo County kids. However, young people are on waiting lists in each of the programs, said Sarah Kremer, co-chair of the Mentoring Coalition of San Mateo County.

Men and minorities willing to serve as mentors are particularly in need, she said.

San Mateo County officials began promoting mentoring to the 6,000 county and city employees last year witha fair that showcased various nonprofit organizations. The push was prompted by a 2007 report by the county’s youth commission showing young people in general felt a dearth of caring and supportive relationships with adults.

Although some county employees became mentors, a severe shortage remains and supervisors are now renewing their push. Additionally, several mentoring organizations are holding events in honor of National Mentoring Month.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, supervisors presented a National Mentoring Month proclamation to the Mentoring Coalition. A mentoring fair is planned for March 12 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the County Health Department building in San Mateo.

tbarak@examiner.com

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