January is National Mentoring Month. The Boys & Girls Club of McAllen is the positive place for kids where youth find relationships with trained, caring adults that can have life changing impact.

Several types of mentoring go on at the club. There is one on one mentoring where youth are matched with an adult that shares an interest with them. They meet at the club for fun activities monthly but talk every week about issues that affect them. Then there is group mentoring opportunities in which a group of 10 to 12 youth bond with a mentor through a shared emphasis such as Smart Moves, our at risk prevention curriculum or a sports league (baseball, softball, basketball, football or volleyball). Another opportunity for group mentoring experiences occurs with Keystone Clubs.

Keystone Clubs

Keystone Clubs are chartered small group leadership development clubs within Boys & Girls Clubs, which target young people ages 14 to 18 for service learning. Keystoners elect officers, choose their own activities and plan and implement community service projects

The Boys & Girls Club of McAllen at the Quest Academy of Idea Public Schools, 21st Century Learning Center has a Keystone group. Unit Director, Cassie Montalvo reports, “Our Keystone President Alexys Campos and Vice President Chris Garza wanted to do a community service project so they decided to help a family who was part of the United Way’s 12 Days of Christmas.” Alexys picked one of the United Way family’s after a discussion during a round table debate the teens held one day after school. Round table discussions/debates are often held after teens finish their homework early.

The Boys & Girls Club teen’s mentors Jose Sandoval and Chris Olivarez facilitate the round table discussions/ debates using local current events. This time the discussion focused on the hidden impact of economic needs. The teens spoke about examples like the homeless people on the streets at first. Later, the teens were asked to imagine what it would be like if their families were in dire economic circumstances like the families featured for the United Way’s 12 Days of Christmas. Expressing empathy for others is key to character building in youth development and leadership development in general.

The mentors went on to ask the teens to imagine what it would be like if their family was like the Salazar family (one of the featured United Way’s 12 Days of Christmas families). The father has end stage colon cancer and cannot work. The teens were asked to imagine what if this family had not been in the newspaper. Would we know about their struggles just by looking at them? We don’t always know how others are really struggling. The plight families face can be hidden sometimes.

As the discussion continued, the teens realized how the Salazar kids could be left with nothing if their father were to die since he is dealing with a very terrible sickness (colon cancer). Alexys then said, “We should do something for them.” Then the Keystone group began telling everyone to bring at least one item for the family. The Salazar family consists of wife, Martha Salazar and five children — Marisol, 11; Anahi, 9; Patricia, 7; Deonicio (or Donny), 6 and the energetic youngest son, Angel, 2.

The Keystone Club collected many items among themselves; then other students at Quest Academy joined the effort. The Keystoners were excited when they saw the little donation box they set aside for people to drop off their donations, began to overflow with items. Alexys shared, “Sometimes we take our lives, homes and material things for granted; not everyone is as fortunate as we are.”

Laura Reagan-Porras is a sociologist and the Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen. She can be reached for comment or questions at cpo@begreatmcallen.org or 956-682-5791.