|(left to right) Conflict Resolution Liaison Ronald Simonson, Mix Martial Arts Trainer Damon Kennard, Climate Manager Earl Carter, and Mentor Darren Laws (dsbpix)|
“Champ or Chump” simply stated this is the motto for the Chester High Achievement Mentoring Program (CHAMP) organized in January “to mentor young men to develop their ability to think critically, exam a sense of understanding and compassion for others, and the courage to respond to their beliefs.” The mentors believe that Champs usually evaluate their situation and make positive results, while Chumps fail to pause and consider the consequences of their actions. The program stresses the importance of embracing the whole child physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially.
CHAMP’s vision is to assist students to think critically and make sound positive decisions to assure future success as productive members of society. Band together to facilitate the program are mentors Darren Laws from The Mission his own community organization, Earl Carter Head Climate Manager for Chester High School, and Ronald Simonson Liaison for Conflict Resolution at Chester High School. “Our goal as mentor will be to advocate for our youth, and be role models for them in their community. Through one to one interaction and group discussion our goal is to forge lifelong relationships through the modeling process.”
The program is designed for young men in the 9th through 12th grade but this year they reached students from 9th to 11th grade. The 11th grade young men will continue on as they enter 12th grade. Mentor Darren Laws, “We started out with about 15 to 20 kids a few months ago now we are up to about 95 kids and still growing.” Students must have good grades to participate. To accomplish their goals they included a series of sessions from volunteers, mentors, tutors, and presenters that shared their knowledge and experiences. Damon Kennard, a mixed martial arts trainer, was one of the first presenters. He had these words to share, “Your world can be as big as you want it to be or as small as you want it to be. It's up to you.” He asked students, “Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?” He got some blank stares and some snickers from the boys. Have you heard of, “I'm the master of my faith, the captain of my soul?” he continued. The boys kept snickering which irritated Kennard, “7 out of 10 will be dead or incarcerated. That's the stats on minorities. The role model you choose to follow will make you into the man you are tomorrow. The choices you make are going to affect you tomorrow. One thing about time you don't get it back. Make a mistake today it will cost you tomorrow.”
(left to right): Officer Rhaheem Blanden, Rev. Stanley Gordon Smith, Jacque Goldsborough, Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland, Keith Beauford, and William Jacobs (dsbpix)
On April 28th, The Reverend Dr. Stanley Gordon Smith of the Asbury A.M.E Church told the boys to look at each other and say, "I am more than they say I am!" He encouraged students to start college earlier. “Look forward. Do not repeat the same mind frame.” Mayor John Linder, on May 5th, had everyone stand up and locked arms motivating them to “lock on until you achieved what you plan to achieve.”
(Left to right): Mayor John Linder, CHS Climate Manager Earl Carter, Conflict Resolution Liaison Ronald Simonson, and Mentor Darren Laws (dsbpix)
On June 2nd, District Attorney Jack Whelan was the last speaker in the series. In his opening remarks to the students, District Attorney Whelan commended the young men in the room for taking the initiative to be part of the program. He acknowledged the fact that the CHAMPS in the room have already set themselves apart from others in their decision to participate in the program. In line with the program’s mission, the District Attorney focused on the importance of positive thinking, responsible personal conduct, respect for self and others, and educational achievement. He also urged the CHAMPS to avoid the influence of external pressures, and instead be guided by their own moral compass and values. He explained the fact that even if you work hard and make good choices, befriending the wrong people can have negative repercussions and throw someone off track on a path to success. He told the students that as District Attorney, one of his first steps was to bring onboard a team of trusted advisors and surround himself with individuals of strong moral fiber and strong work ethic, so he could continue to accomplish his goal to protect and serve the residents of Delaware County. He concluded by encouraging those who were already mentors to continue the mission they started, and challenged those who were not mentoring to accept the chance to make a difference in the community (Pastalone, L. Office of the District Attorney).
(left to right): George B. Dawson, Deputy DA and Chief of the Anti-Violence Task Force, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan, and Chief Joseph Ryan of the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division (dsbpix)
Quran Williams, a graduating 12th grade student further gave the boys some advice, “Respect your elders because they will help you. Stop following the wrong crowd. Get good grades and graduate. Be yourself. Have respect for yourself. I lost friends at 17. I’m trying to give you all the guidance I can. Don't surround yourself with bad influence. Stay focus and pay attention.”
Students are also engaged in community projects, field trips, and serve as peer counselors. They participated in Choices breast cancer walk and community service cleanup for the schools. They went to Washington D. C. on May 20th and learned about the Justice Department. Among the sponsors are Office Depot and Shop Rite which donated supplies. They plan a dress up day. White shirts and ties were donated by several sponsors and mentors.
The CHAMP program wrapped up for the school year but look for them to comeback stronger in September to continue their outreach to students. “The C.H.A.M.P will expand our goals as the program grows with a focus on financial security, entrepreneurship, male/female relationship’s, health, fitness, personal responsibility, substance abuse awareness, peer pressure, self-image, and employment skills.” The program mentors plan to keep in touch with students during the summer in case students need support. They will be creating a toll free number and a Facebook page as a source for outreach. When school reopens in September, mentors are prepared to continue the program, “We will incorporate our key words, such as Integrity, responsibility, respect, honesty, patience, discipline, community service and courage.” With goals in place and mentors, these young men are on their way to being CHAMPS.