A quick word about how WCD works:
All of the WCD participants are connected to churches in the East End of Pittsburgh, mine being the Upper Room in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Our involvement is not supposed to be primarily about the people in the local congregation, rather, my role there has been described as being a "missionary" to the neighborhood, which make the Upper Room a host for such activity, rather than possessing an intern. This structure has allowed me the time to volunteer with a couple great existing organizations and non-profit groups... 6th grade mentoring being one of those opportunities!
As my somewhat cynical neighbor Dave (which is how I address him - "Neighbor Dave") has said - you expect humanitarian and social justice groups to name their programs using acronyms and uberoptimistic phrases like, "Operation Hope" or "RESCUE". Well the mentoring program that I'm volunteering with didn't go with that plan. This citywide initiative is simply titled, the "Be a 6th Grade Mentor" program. If you don't believe me, you can inquire at bea6thgradementor.org (there's a link at the bottom of the blog). Despite the name being rather ordinary, I am lovin’ this experience so far.
For the last couple weeks I've been going to Sterrett School, a public middle school in Point Breeze, to spend an hour or so with my mentee, Marcel Young. We've discussed dreams, goals, organizational skills, favorite foods, and really just gotten to know one another. And we get snacks! Everyone likes snacks, period. I don't usually do this, but can I get an "amen"? The experience is a blast for me not only because I get to know and spend time with Marcel, but also because I get to look around at the billions of Milk mustaches posters, be startled by the end-of-the-day bell (which causes ALL of the mentors to cringe...they hate it!), listen in on the principal giving announcements over the intercom, and reminisce with other mentors about middle school things like Giga pets, wearing your backpack really low and over only one shoulder, and bowl-cuts. The mentoring program is not just fun for the students!
The BA6GM program is run by 4 different partnering agencies (similar to the United Way) and the public school systems and seeks to make a difference in the lives of kids who are at a vulnerable age. Think about it… how awkward was the 6th grade?!? For me, the 6th grade conjures up memories of getting the nickname “Bighead” for having the same size noggin as a normal 40 year old man would have, but on a 6th grade pre-puberty body, mourning the recent loss of my bowl-cut hair style (which wasn’t the best choice for someone like me with Amish relatives), and transitioning from hearing about sex in health class to hearing about older classmates trying it out for real. Oh, and I was at my fattest. Good times, eh?
Working in 8 different public schools across Pittsburgh, the Be a 6th Grade Mentor program is in its second year of operation and is spreading rapidly as it provides opportunities for kids to develop positive relationships over the course of the school year. It is this philosophy that has attracted me to volunteer here. Not only is caring for children something that Christians support, but also it’s convenient in that the commitment is the same length as my WCD commitment, and it provides a chance for me to get to know other mentors. On one hand, the program is quite the gift because Marcel and I will be able to learn from one another and I can hopefully offer a positive influence in his life, but it will also allow me to develop relationships with other people seeking to do good and offer what they can to children. Why do we give? What motivates our compassion and care? What values are held dear by those who volunteer? (Now that is a name for a group!) And what is the role of the Church in such humanitarian efforts? Questions like these are running through my head while participating in this program.
Later today, I’ll be hanging out with Marcel along with about 30 other mentor/mentee groups, and I would ask for your prayers on Wednesday’s around 4-5 pm… that I would be able to develop a helpful relationship with Marcel and the others involved in the program, and that God’s Kingdom would be furthered by these seemingly small acts.