What I learned in San Juan
By Rep. French Hill
Earlier this year, I wrote a local newspaper column on the importance of youth mentoring. In the column, I was able to highlight the work of a constituent who is actively involved with the Boys & Girls Club in Bryant. That constituent, Karissa Stephens, detailed for me her experience of mentoring a young child who was struggling academically, socially, and emotionally.
Karissa challenged her mentee to set goals so that she could improve in all three of those key areas. As the child began to progress in all three areas, Karissa realized that the reason her mentee had struggled so much before was because she didn't have someone in her life who could play the critical role of offering much-needed encouragement.
Through Karissa's guidance, the mentee is now a senior in high school, a successful student, and a member of the JROTC program with aspirations of joining the military. Karissa and her mentee's story demonstrates the subtle reality that many of our at-risk youth face – life is infinitely more challenging without the support of caring adults.
These are the types of individual success stories that we should not only celebrate, but also use as encouragement and direction for how to best engage with young students so that they can ultimately lead meaningful and prosperous lives. Karissa’s work focuses on two major components within CEI; education and mentoring.
In April 2016, we held a successful roundtable in Little Rock with representatives from 10 different local organizations and schools that specialize in these two central CEI topics. The participants in the roundtable each discussed the methods their organization or institution uses to positively influence the lives of our students.
One example from the roundtable that particularly stuck out to me was the work being done at Arkansas Baptist College (ABC). Under the direction of then-president Fitzgerald Hill, Ed.D., ABC not only tackles its students’ academic challenges, but their moral responsibilities, as well. One thing that was pointed out during the roundtable was that mentoring is not just about the mentee; it’s also about his or her parents and the community as a whole. Why should students have to leave their communities to access resources? ABC remains committed to the successful development of its students’ holistic narrative by enriching and empowering the community surrounding the campus, and encouraging the students – many of whom are from this community – to do the same.
These roundtable discussions are invaluable in understanding the great work being done in Arkansas. However, an equally important aspect of CEI has been travelling outside of central Arkansas and visiting with people and organizations who have made significant impacts in the local community. Taking what I learn on these trips and bringing it back to Arkansas, as well as providing insight to outside organizations about successful groups in Arkansas, is the true mission of CEI. The constant sharing of best practices and well-tested ideas is a proven way to increase the effectiveness of all programs across the country.
If you continue to read this blog, you will become familiar with one of my favorite organizations outside of Arkansas: the Doe Fund in New York. The Doe Fund is a successful program that has been working with the homeless and formerly incarcerated to help them rebuild their lives for the past three decades. This past week, I had another opportunity to go outside of Arkansas to visit with an organization that is having an equally remarkable impact in helping to strengthen its community. On Friday, I was in Puerto Rico and I accompanied Congresswoman Jenniffer González Colón to Politecnico Amigo in San Juan. Politecnico Amigo is a faith-based program that pairs students with local social service programs, aiming to enrich the lives of these young adults.