(September 30, 2015, New York, NY): When it comes to student success in the 2015-2016 academic year, mastering the “Three R’s” of “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic” is just one part of the equation. In fact, an equally essential factor in ensuring student achievement is mentoring.

Mentor tying tie with mentee

Consider that in 2015, 90% of the 400 young people enrolled in Mentoring USA’s New York-based programs went on to the next grade level. Nearly 75% of the mentees showed improvement in school attendance, and less than 1% of the male mentees in the organization’s programs in Newark, NJ, Philadelphia, PA, and Chicago – three of the highest-poverty, lowest-served cities in the country – received in-school or out of school suspensions. Moreover, all 17 graduating New York high school seniors who received mentoring through the organization are now enrolled in college, including at such prestigious institutions as New York University, Stony Brook University, University of Albany and University of Buffalo.

Mentoring USA is a leading national provider of one-on-one site-based mentoring for youth. Founded in 1995 by Matilda Raffa Cuomo, the former First Lady of New York State, the organization has provided mentors to thousands and thousands of young people across the country since its inception. It operates in New York; Los Angeles; Santa Ana, CA; Oakland, CA; Louisville, KY; Silver Spring, MD; Chicago; Newark, NJ; East Hanover, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; and Washington, DC. There are also affiliate programs in Italy, Spain, Morocco, Belgium, and Latvia, and the organization has provided technical assistance to government and educational institutions in Asia.

Beyond just providing students with assistance with school, though, Mentoring USA uses a site-based structured curriculum that focuses on fostering an appreciation for diversity, building self-esteem, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, goal-setting, and financial education and responsibility.

This holistic approach is critical to the organization’s success, especially given the demographics of its student population: 90% are non-White, 85% receive free or reduced fee lunch, and 70% read below their grade level.

Mentoring USA – which is under the umbrella of HELP USA, one of the nation’s foremost homelessness prevention and service provider organizations – also tailors programs and services to various sub-groups of students with specific needs, including LGBTQ youth, those who are medically-fragile, those in foster care, those in transitional housing, girls, and young men.

“Our country has seen much violence and despair this past year but there is so much hope in the hearts and minds of these mentored children,” said Mrs. Cuomo. “For 20 years, I have seen the impact of one to one mentoring on young people’s lives and it has changed the trajectory of each and every one forever. It impacts their future in such profound ways.”

It did just that for Terrance Brown, who grew up in Harlem as the only male in a single-parent home; his mom, aunt, and grandmother were the others in the apartment. A typically rebellious teen, he wanted to be in the “in-crowd…I wanted to be cool.”

Seeing that such a path far too often led to drugs, violence, and incarceration, Brown decided to lead a “more positive life. My goal was to get out of the hood, stay out of trouble and be a successful person.”

Brown’s mother, a corrections officer at Rikers Island at the time, introduced him to her cousin Keith Howard, who happens to be a program manager at Mentoring USA.

“Keith made me think and understand the consequences of my decisions,” Brown related. “He was invaluable in keeping me on the straight path.”

That included taking Brown to museums and movies, talking to him about women and life, introducing him to people in the financial world, and instilling in him the benefits of a college education. “…He was there to answer any and every question I had.”

The end result speaks for itself. Brown graduated from Baruch College of the City University of New York, and now works in commercial real estate banking.

Of equal note, Brown himself has now become a mentor for Mentoring USA, working with a young man named Brendon Campbell, who Brown said, “reminds me of me when I was his age. So to have the opportunity to help him as I was helped, and to try and change the life of even one kid by helping him achieve his goals, well, that is why mentoring is so important to me. It’s the perfect way to give back.”

And Campbell is extremely grateful for his relationship with Brown. The 15-year-old, who is in the 11th grade at East Bronx Academy, said he likes having someone besides his parents, “help guide me in my life. Terrence focuses me on how to be a better person. He focuses on my character, and encourages me to be open. And he provides a lot of positive reinforcement.”

This encouragement is especially important to Campbell given that he aspires to play professional basketball. First, he is intent on going to college — he is being recruited by several institutions — and playing point guard, in addition to pursuing a teaching or physical education degree.

“Of course, my mom and dad (a business administrator and electrician, respectively) give me advice and root for me, but I get so much more by having one-on-one mentoring with Terrance. Each week, we discuss how my life is going. So far, it’s going pretty well.”