Ten years ago this month, the Governor's Mentoring Initiative was born, fueled by a desire to help students excel in school and life by recruiting compassionate adults to become their mentors. Today the initiative — now called the Florida Mentoring Partnership — remains solidly in place, improving young lives and helping to keep mentoring at the forefront of state education policy.
In 1999, as co-chairs of the new statewide initiative, we made a call to action. With the support of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, founder of America's Promise, we announced a goal to recruit 200,000 caring adults who would commit an hour a week to mentoring a child.
We engaged every level of state government, even creating a new rule that allows state employees to spend one paid hour a week mentoring a child. We took the concept further, partnering with hundreds of local municipalities, businesses, nonprofits, individuals and schools to engage mentors as well.
We know through research that mentoring changes lives. Listen to what Steven McFarland — a former mentee of then Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan — tells us.
"Lucky! I had the chance to meet a man named Frank Brogan when I was in the fifth grade at Kate Sullivan Elementary. I knew nothing of Mr. Brogan being the lieutenant governor of the state of Florida, nor did I know that a simple handshake would begin to change my life forever. Mr. Brogan shook my hand in the fifth grade, and even through distance, has never let go. There are things in life that he educated me on that I will never forget; from basic study habits to morals and values I have today. When I think of mentoring, one hour can last a lifetime."
As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Florida Mentoring Partnership, we understand the push for new mentors is as important as ever. In fact, we are working to expand the mentoring program to include opportunities for children housed in foster group homes. Our goal is to provide young people preparing to transition out of foster care with a better chance at a successful life with the help of a mentor who can offer life skills guidance and a lasting and healthy support system. We are partnering with Family Services of Metro Orlando, Guardian ad Litem and Educate Tomorrow with plans to pilot the mentoring project at two Central Florida group homes this fall.
A 2007 study by Public/Private Ventures shows children who are mentored are:
• 46 percent less likely to have started using illegal drugs.
• 27 percent less likely to have started using alcohol.
• Less likely to skip school.
Mentored children also have 32 percent fewer incidents of hitting someone in the previous 12 months.
In the beginning, we wished for a time when mentoring students was simply woven into the fabric of our culture. Today, we believe that culture is in place. We have achieved that once pie-in-the-sky goal — with 220,000 caring Floridians serving as active mentors today.
We remain just as passionate about increasing the number of mentors in Florida, because every day there are thousands of young people in great need of a strong role model. You can be that person — you can teach a child about self-esteem and model characteristics that will help him or her to lead a successful life.
While grateful for the compassion shown by so many mentors, as we approach 2010 the call to action remains the same — please be a mentor to a child in need. For more information about the Florida Mentoring Partnership, please visit www.flamentoring.org.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush and Tallahassee lawyer Steve Uhlfelder are co-chairs of the Florida Mentoring Partnership.