On Sept. 23, Seattle CARES delivered 50 boxes of hand sanitizer to the loading docks at Denny International and Meany middle schools. Some 800 bottles of sanitizer were distributed to students that day.
These schools are the current location of Seattle CARES’ The Rising Program. This fall, The Rising welcomed its second cohort of 80 students and families.
The program works with boys and girls from under-resourced families, helping to instill the determination and critical thinking skills they need to avoid predicable futures. A study conducted in Seattle last year showed 92 percent of students who participated in The Rising had increased self-confidence. Racial identity and racial pride also improved as did social and emotional intelligence.
“We wanted to make a contribution to help keep people safe,” said Seattle CARES Executive Director Don Cameron. “Hand sanitizers, along with washing hands and wearing masks, are proven to do that.”
In January 2018, when Seattle CARES launched its mentoring movement in partnership with City of Seattle, Christian Love was in the audience. He was so inspired by the presentation and the enthusiasm he felt that night that he signed up to become a mentor, wanting to make an impact on his community.
Christian, who grew up in Detroit, got interested in mentoring early on. As a middle-school student, he was asked to serve as a role model for younger students, helping them set academic goals and improve their classroom behavior. Today, he is pursuing his doctoral degree in higher education at the University of Washington, a first-generation graduate student.
He has been a volunteer mentor with The Rising from the very beginning. “I wanted to help pave the way for future scholars to serve as leaders in our community,” he said. “Over the past three years, I’ve seen these young men grow and develop in many ways, from gaining leadership skills to advocating for important issues that impact Black and Brown youth in Seattle.”
Christian pointed out how a group of students who were quiet and reserved as sixth-graders had become leaders by eighth grade, thanks to The Rising. “They became the first to step up and volunteer for a student-based leadership role,” he said. “Now, as they move on to high school, they want to be student leaders, to join organizations and help impact the culture at their schools. Some will even be coming back to serve as peer mentors for the second cohort of Rising scholars.”
Christian was thrilled that two of The Rising students received scholarships to O’Dea High School. “This will be a game changer,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for them to change the narrative of their current stories and set the stage for positive life outcomes in the years to come.”
Jeff Forge always enjoyed working with kids so becoming a mentor with Seattle CARES seemed a natural next step.
Jeff grew up in New York City and attended the University of Wisconsin on a football scholarship, graduating with a B.S. in child and family studies. He earned a second degree in computer science and lunar and planetary science at the University of Arizona. Along the way, he was a Montessori preschool teacher, a middle school math teacher, and most recently, for the past 20 years, a software engineer.
Recently, we asked Jeff to tell us more about mentoring and what it means to him.
Why did you become a mentor?
Mentoring is important work. Even though I have my own kids, I feel that as a community, the success and well-being of all children is the responsibility of all of us. When I came across the opportunity to participate with Seattle CARES, I jumped at the chance.
What do you like most about mentoring?
I enjoy getting to know both the students and the other mentors.
Was mentoring important to you growing up?
When I look back on my youth and my time in both athletics and academics, what stands out for me are the mentors and the people who guided me along the way.
The COVID-19 outbreak, extended school closures and social distancing have deepened inequities and hardships for young people across Washington. In response, Seattle CARES and other youth development programs had to quickly adapt their services to support these critical audiences.
Late last year, Seattle CARES received a grant from School’s Out Washington and the Washington State Department of Commerce to continue its important work. In all, $9.4 million was awarded to 421 organizations across the state, many serving youth and families.
This week, Seattle CARES, and its work with scholars in the Rising program, were featured on the “Community Spotlight” page on the Elevate Washington website.
LeChelle, a single mom and Metro bus driver, and her son Evan, a student at Denny International Middle School, participate in two Seattle CARES programs. LeChelle has seen Evan grow and mature in the past few years through his involvement in The Rising, supported by King County’s Best Starts for Kids. LeChelle is an enthusiastic participant in the community wellness circles, part of Positive Family Connections. We asked LeChelle to share her thoughts on how these programs have impacted her family’s life.
Why did you select The Rising for your son Evan?
I wanted Evan to participate in The Rising because of the demographic it serves. As a single parent, I felt it was necessary for him to be exposed to positive members in our local community who not only looked like him but could empathize with him on issues surrounding our community. These are people who understand the dynamics of the Black family and could offer guidance and insight on how to navigate through systematically anchored stumbling blocks.
After looking through the program’s brochure and speaking with Mrs. Fields, the assistant principal at Denny, I knew this team did this work from the heart and had my son’s best interests in mind. The commitment they made to us, and the journey we have been through together thus far, have been worthwhile.
What were your initial expectations?
I wanted Evan to improve his organizational skills: To recognize when he’s beginning to procrastinate and to develop strategies to stay ahead of the game. At the end of the 7th grade, Evan had to play serious catch-up. He had so many missing assignments, it was unbelievable. I reached out and made the Seattle CARES team aware. Together we developed a plan and provided Evan with an opportunity to learn and understand a major life lesson. Their innovative incentive programs also helped inspire my son.
The deal was he had to read a book entitled “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.” After reading it, he had to pick three habits, rank them and explain why he made those selections. We worked on the readings together. I helped edit Evan’s rough draft and took him to the public library to type his paper. At the very top of his list was procrastination. Evan remembered how procrastinating affected him earlier that year. He understood the fall-out and then the catch-up process, which was very stressful. We both had takeaways from that book project. Since then, Evan has not had a single issue regarding procrastination. This was a win-win combination of mentorship, parent involvement, and student achievement.
What other impact has The Rising had on Evan?
Evan looks forward to the weekly meetings with the other students and facilitators. He is usually reserved but has told me he feels comfortable in the group. The most impactful outcome has been Evan’s sense of accountability and learning to become more responsible. He is a more confident student because he understands that it is up to him to prioritize. Nobody can do that for him. Evan is very proud of the grades he earns and the effort that he puts into projects. The Rising does an outstanding job of recognizing his strengths. That is very motivating to my son.
Were there issues during the move to virtual learning last spring?
The school closure sent a panic over my household. I didn’t even have a computer for Evan to use, but The Rising had a laptop hand-delivered to Evan weeks before the school district began to distribute theirs. The computer was already set up and ready to go with programs and software installed. Tech support was available, as well. Seattle CARES sent a text and email before class to ensure Evan was on time. Participation was still required and he looked forward to class with the same excitement he did as if it were face-to-face.
Does Seattle CARES impact your well-being, too?
I am a regular participant in the community wellness circle for moms, part of King County’s Positive Family Connections program. This group is essential for my self-care regimen to maintain balance within myself and set boundaries for those I encounter in my daily activities. I love being able to share and not be judged, just supported. I love the fact that we listen to one another and we refuse to offer advice. It is a safe place. I look forward to seeing all those beautiful faces each week; it’s like a breath of fresh air for me. The amount of support and donations I receive for my family through the programs from Seattle CARES has been tremendous.
How are the wellness community circles different?
The facilitators are African American women and that’s important to me. They can sympathize with me and understand my experiences because they may have gone through it, too. We have a cultural connection and it’s nice to be able to vibe on things in a way that wouldn’t be genuine or natural in any other setting. The same applies to Evan and The Rising. It’s a safe place for him to discuss issues that affect him as a young person and as a young Black person. Those are two separate identities he carries. I think it’s such a blessing that my son and I benefit from these programs that are customized for our needs.