iCARE mentors building relationships, one student at a time

May 15, 2020

By Colette Jenkins
Published in Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com

Local iCARE program builds relationships, one student at a time. Adult participants, mentees teach each other invaluable lessons

Ingrid Abraham-Turner and Jannae Chapman have spent the last year building a relationship of trust.

“It’s been fun. She helped me with a lot of my problems. When I was having rough times [with a couple of classmates], she taught me how to be the bigger person. She helped me understand that school is about learning and getting my education,” Jannae, 12, said of her mentor, Abraham-Turner.

The mentor meets with the seventh-grader once a week at Litchfield middle school.

The two were brought together last year via the iCARE (Creating Authentic Relational Energy) Mentoring program and are continuing to strengthen their relationship this year.

The school-based mentoring program was established by Jonathan and Jessica Greer in 2013 as a small nonprofit. During the 2014-2015 school year, 27 mentors were paired with 27 student participants in Akron Public Schools. Last year, 213 mentors offered guidance to 296 students.

This year’s goal is to provide 1,000 mentors for 1,000 children and young adults in grades kindergarten through 12 in Akron Public Schools via the iCARE initiative, which in August became a United Way of Summit County program.

Mentors are required to spend an hour per week with their mentees during their lunch hour at the school they attend.

“With new partnerships, we have positioned ourselves to provide more positive, purposeful adult-to-student mentoring relationships. We don’t think it’s too ambitious to think we can reach our goal,” iCARE Executive Director Jonathan Greer said. “We are forming partnerships with local businesses and organizations to identify new mentors throughout the year.”

To date, the program includes 292 mentors. The goal is for each mentor/mentee team to stay together through high school graduation.

Reaching potential

Joe Vassalotti, Akron Public Schools athletic coordinator, made a commitment last year to serve as a mentor.

“I know the importance of role models and if I can be a positive role model who makes a difference in the life of a young person, that’s what I want to do,” Vassalotti said. “One-on-one relationships are very beneficial for the mentor and the mentee. I want to be an adult who can motivate young people to reach their potential. The great thing about it is we think we’re giving something to them, but they actually help us become better people.”The iCARE Mentoring coordinators work with school administrators to make sure mentors and mentees can spend 

“He’s funny and cool and he has helped me with my college stuff,” DeMarco said of Burwell. “I really want to play basketball, but he helped me understand how important it is to have another plan, like college.”

Dynum agreed that his mentor has stressed the importance of education and helped him stay positive.

“I used to get mad a lot, but he helped calm me down and he helped me see it’s not worth it to lose your temper or get into fights,” Dynum said. “He’s really a good person and I’m glad he’s my friend because he gives good advice.”

Positive influence

Grandison and Burwell said they became mentors because they have a passion for helping young people.

“It’s all about meeting the needs of the students and being a positive influence in their lives,” said Burwell, who also serves as assistant pastor at Winfield Church of God in Christ in Ravenna. “I believe that the more positive things you can pour into a young person, the better off they will be. I’m just trying to be an adult who can be trusted to tell them the truth and give them some guidance and support.”

Grandison, who serves as executive administrator of iCARE and is working toward his graduate degree in counseling, said mentoring is a way to give back to the community.

“I love working with young people, helping them see their potential and exploring with them ways to realize that potential,” Grandison said. “The foundation for all of that is building positive relationships. That’s what we do as mentors — build relationships that provide the support and guidance that young people need.”

Abraham-Turner said those relationships help mentors better understand young people and the challenges that they face.

“Jannae has taught me patience and how to work with young people,” said Abraham-Turner, a contract administrator with the Summit County Department of Job and Family Services. “She already has my heart and I want nothing but the best for her. I’m here for the long run. I can’t wait to see what this young lady will become.”

Find out more about the iC.A.R.E Mentoring program>



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