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Invest an Hour, Ignite a Life

About half of the mentors who serve with us every year are students at TCU. Mentoring is a great experience for them -- they get an hour break from school each week to come and hang out with a really cool kid. At Fortress, we know the immeasurable impact that mentoring can have in the lives of the kids we work with, but that impact is hard to measure. Sometimes, we never even get to see the changes that are being made in our kids, but just trust that God is doing good work through the commitment that our volunteers are making.

That slow -often unsteady -change can sometimes be discouraging. I have mentors come to me often and say, "I just don't feel like I'm making a difference. He's still having the same struggles he was six months ago." This was true for one of our TCU mentors, Taylor, who was preparing to graduate in the spring of last year and had spent two years working with his mentee, 3rd grader Aaron.

Aaron and his mentor, Taylor (2015)

Aaron and his mentor, Taylor (2015)

Aaron is a bright and funny kid. He comes from a good family, he makes good grades, and he doesn't get into much trouble. So as much as Taylor enjoyed mentoring Aaron, he just didn't feel like his time had made much of a difference in Aaron's life.

In May, normally jovial Aaron arrived at Fortress with his chin tucked into his chest. He didn't chat during snack time. He sat alone during class. "Is everything okay, Aaron?" was met with a short nod, but no eye contact. When his mentor arrived, he went downstairs with little to no enthusiasm. 

"Is everything okay, Aaron?" asked his mentor. But this time, instead of shrugging off the question, Aaron's eyes welled up with tears and in an uncharacteristically quiet voice, he replied, "I'm scared for my friend." Taylor spent the next ten minutes listening to Aaron recount the details of his school day -- how on their way to a field trip, his friend had confided in him, saying he was afraid he was going to get shot that night. As it turns out, Aaron's friend had a big brother who cared for him after school. That big brother had gotten into some bad business with a gang, and that evening, they were to meet up in a park to fight. The friend swore Aaron to secrecy, and Aaron trusted no one else with his friend's confidence. No one... except his mentor.

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Taylor told our staff. Our staff called the non-emergency police line and the elementary school counselor. The counselor tried to reach the friend's family, but didn't get a hold of them until the next day. As it turned out, there was a fight in the park, and the big brother was hospitalized with a concussion (he made a full recovery). The little brother was unharmed. 

There are two things we took away from that day. First, it confirmed that, at its core, our after school program is important because it gives kids a safe place to land. Our program shields kids from gang involvement and violence, and allows them to just be, well, kids.

Second, it reminded not only our staff, but our volunteers, of their purpose in our kids' lives. Not every day has a story or a special moment. In fact, most don't. But the consistency and normalcy gives way for the moments that change and mold our kids' lives. 

In addition to giving for North Texas Giving Day, I hope you'll make a special consideration of becoming a mentor in our program. At the beginning of this school year, nearly half of our kids need to be matched with an adult. To learn more and apply, visit www.fortressydc.org/ignite

-Dani Kocur, Director of Social-Emotional Learning