Published in The Gardner News on 2/14/2015 7:33:00 AM
REGION Justin Schwartz was a normal guy with a rocky childhood who just wanted to help kids in the same position as he was while growing up.
So when he heard about the LUK Mentoring program, which connects children in need with compassionate adults, “It lit a fire in my stomach.”
“I learned how to mature on my own, and it was not easy,” Mr. Schwartz told the crowd of more than 100 people during the 2nd annual Mentoring Gala on Thursday night.
“It got me thinking about how my life could have changed if I had someone to guide me.”
Through LUK, Mr. Schwartz was teamed up with a 14-year-old named David.
At first, the two didn’t connect as deeply at Mr. Schwartz wanted — “He wouldn’t tell me anything” — then he asked David to help him with his kitchen remodeling.
“He yelled so loud his voice cracked.” said Mr. Schwartz, earning a chuckle from the crowd.
From there, the two bonded like brothers.
Before meeting David, Mr. Schwartz said there were portions of his own childhood that he wished he could erase.
But if not for those moments, “I might never have met David,” he said.
“Now I say: I wouldn’t change a damn thing.
Seeing a smile on his face makes me forget everything I went through as a kid.”
Over the course of the evening, LUK raised more than $5,000 through silent and live auctions to support its mentoring program, which helps kids ages 6 through 17 in Northern Worcester County find positive role models.
There are 3,000 children across the state who are on the waiting list for mentors, with 150 on a wait-list locally, says program director Hilary Amedy.
Being involved in the program has helped kids improve academic performance, decreased absenteeism and helped their social competencies.
“Some kids are not so lucky as to have mentors in their life,” said Ms. Amedy.
“Simple things, like getting a library card, are a complete mystery.”
The mentoring program, according to LUK CEO Richard Hooks Wayman, is special because it helps put children on the right path before they ever get on the wrong one.
“We need to confront the myth we can do it alone.
It hardens us,” he said.
“All of us have relied on support from people around us.”
In addition to donations, the program is funded through the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Mass Mentoring Partnership, Massachusetts Department of Public Health and Amelia Peabody Foundation.
Mentors must be at least 18 years old and are asked to meet with their mentees for at least one hour a week over the course of one year.
For more information, visit mentoring.luk.org.