MentorKids USA

Manuel Ojeda, Learon Wooley, Brianna Gallardo, Nathaniel Henry and Carolyn Mazon Leon play Bible jeopardy at MentorKids USA South Phoenix program at First Pentecostal Church Community Center on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013.

A mentoring organization for at-risk youth in south Phoenix is in desperate need for volunteers and is turning to Ahwatukee Foothills for help.

MentorKids USA is a Christian-based mentoring program, though it accepts kids of any religion. The organization has been around for about 16 years, but in more recent years they’ve developed a new way of mentoring that’s more effective for the kids. All they need now is the volunteers to help merge the old way of mentoring with the new.

The new three-tiered approach focuses on communities. MentorKids calls it the Promised Neighborhood approach.

“Essentially the idea is to identify a specific neighborhood, go deep in that neighborhood and do mentoring on three tiers: youth, family and community,” said Aaron Parrott, director of operations at MentorKids. “We feel if we’re hitting those three tiers in a defined neighborhood with specific boundaries we’re going to see the systemic change that we hope to see.”

Traditional mentoring pairs one adult with one child. Parrott said while MentorKids saw good results with that method, some mentors were feeling frustrated only seeing the kids they mentor three or four times a month and then dropping them back off into a situation that wasn’t ideal.

A major part of the Promised Neighborhoods approach is an after-school program. Kids meet with a mentor Monday through Friday right after school. From 3 to 5 p.m. the kids get help with homework or work on reading. After 5 p.m. the kids take part in a different activity like athletics, art, gardening, engineering or science, even financial literacy activities depending on the day of the week. Parrott said the after-school program has been so successful it has grown from 32 students last year to 52 enrolled this year.

While MentorKids has focused on the after-school program in south Phoenix they’ve abandoned the one-on-one method of mentoring. That’s something Parrott would like to see return.

“We’ve been trying to decide how to use our resources wisely,” he said. “Not every child needs a one-on-one mentor. We have identified a handful of kids who would really benefit from that one-on-one attention. The next step is to find mentors for them.”

Parrott reached out to Connecting to Serve in Ahwatukee Foothills for help finding people interested in working with kids. Ahwatukee Foothills resident Julia Smith recently visited the south Phoenix campus, and while she doesn’t have time at the moment to volunteer she said she definitely plans to in the future.

“It is amazing on every level,” Smith said. “I was only there maybe an hour, but I saw it in action. It’s structured such that they have one hour of tutoring, some faith-based activities and then an activity. It’s a very well-designed program… I was just really impressed with how well-behaved the kids are. I think you can tell a lot about the program by how the kids act toward the program. They are fully engaged and excited to be there. You sense that the moment you walk in.”

Parrott said Mentoring Kids is in desperate need of mentors right after school to help with tutoring from 3:30 to 5 p.m. The kids work on simple reading, but that reading is a skill that they’ll use for the rest of their lives.

“When you look at the research done around reading, especially at a young age, and high school completion and through college, career, family life and everything, it’s reading in grades one through three that is so critical,” Parrott said. “Coming down an hour a week you could change a child’s life.”

To look for volunteering opportunities or to become a mentor, visit or call (480) 767-6707.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or

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