Javier is a bright, loud, energetic (if not hyper) ten year old boy. But his energy hasnít always been used for good. I broke up fights he had with other boys on several occasions at our club. He was also responsible for the destruction of property at the club one time. I recall suggesting to staff that instead of suspending him, we should require that he make restitution or ďpay backĒ his damage to the club by doing club service. So he cleaned our stage area in the gym and our drama room. He did a pretty good job, too. Often his energy and impulsiveness caused him to get in trouble at school, and he would be sent home with discipline referrals.
We knew that his behavior problems placed him at risk of failing school. And that failure placed him in even greater peril of becoming a dropout statistic. (More than half of our Valley youth will dropout of school.) Kids with behavior problems are also more likely to experiment with alcohol and drugs at an early age or become involved with the juvenile justice system. In addition, Javier came from a single parent home. His mother works three jobs to make ends meet. She loves her son, but simply has very little time to spend with him. This fact placed Javier in greater risk.
His profile met the classic standards for a child ďat risk.Ē He was at risk of school drop out and at risk of juvenile delinquency.
Something had to be done. We have a mentoring program at the club for at risk students or club members. A child is interviewed about their interests and then paired up with a community member (mentor) with similar interests. The community member trains with our staff for an evening and then meets their child or mentee. They meet face to face at the club to spend one-on-one time playing in our game room or gym, talking in the library or working on the computer together for at least an hour a month. Then weekly, they stay in contact by phone calls or e-mail messages. The mentor asks them about their activities, friends, interests and school progress. A bond develops which can be life changing and yield positive outcomes for the child at risk.
This was the case with Javier. Javier needed another special caring adult in his life, other than his mother. He needed someone that would help redirect his behavior. Rather than choose a community member, one of our staff requested to work with him. That special staff member is Daisy Hinojosa. Javier began to trust Daisy and share his life with her.
Daisy regularly asked Javier about who he was hanging out with, how school was going and did he have any homework. They shared jokes and special activities such as a Viper game and skating. A light heartedness came over Javier. Javier began to prioritize schoolwork because he wanted to please Daisy and answer ďyesĒ to the question about having completed his homework. Over time his behavior problems diminished. I heard less incident reports involving Javier, which is a great source of relief for his Club Unit Director, Jessica Soliz and me.
As their bond grew, Javier confided that he may not pass the fifth grade. Javierís mother had a hard time communicating with teachers since she was working three jobs to put food on the table. She asked Daisy to talk to teachers, on behalf of her, which Daisy gladly did. Daisy stayed on top of Javier about completing his schoolwork. A real team effort was made to make sure this boy did not slip between the cracks and become another statistic.
Later, Javier shared an even greater worry with Daisy, he confided that his dad was in prison and he was worried about him. He was worried about his mother, too. By sharing this, we were able to put the final pieces of Javierís behavior problems together. We believe Javierís behavior trouble and struggles with schoolwork were really cries for positive attention.
This is the case with so many of our youth today. This is the generation that is starved for adult attention. And the solution is so simple: relationships with caring adults who empower a child by expecting positive things for them.
The teamwork between Daisy and Javierís mom resulted in Javierís improved behavior and school performance. The week after school let out, Javier proudly marched up the stairs to our office while Daisy was out on vacation. He declared that he passed to the fifth grade. We all celebrated and immediately called Daisy and left her a voicemail. By being matched with a mentor, Javierís life dramatically changed in six short months.
Many youth need a mentor. Many donít get the positive attention they deserve and miss the chance to succeed. Please volunteer and become a mentor today; call 956-687-3910.
Laura Reagan-Porras is a sociologist and executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen. She can be reached for question or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or (956) 682-5791.