Be the Change, Be a Lawyers for Learning Mentor

I know I’ve written about the Lawyers for Learning mentoring program, but after this past week, I’m at it again. Let me set the scene. There were about 10 or so volunteers distributing the backpacks to hundreds of children at School #29, including MCBA President, Diane Cecero. We walked into a 3rd grade classroom, followed by a brief introduction by the Principal, Tanya Wilson. Ms. Wilson called on the class to greet the visitors from Lawyers for Learning (LFL), and explained that we were here to bring them a gift. The anticipation on these beautiful little faces, as they sat at attention in their LFL uniform shirts provided by the program, and waited patiently for their sack of school supplies. Once in their hand, they eagerly opened the bag, and their faces lit up with excitement.

My heartstrings were being tugged as we walked through the school distributing bags to children from Pre-K through 8th grade. Entering one third grade class, there was a very sweet little boy named, Tyler, who looked at me with these beautiful eyes, and stated, “This is better than Christmas!” I was stunned. Their gift consisted of a small string knapsack filled with a box of Crayons, fruity markers, two paper folders, pencils and two spiral notebooks. And so when Tyler said to me, “This is better than Christmas”, I was speechless as I thought of my childhood Christmas’s growing up, and the magical Christmas’s I tried to create for my own children, though not extravagant, my kids were always grateful.

Tyler, "This is better than Christmas."

Tyler, “This is better than Christmas.”

Tyler was ecstatic, and all I felt at that moment was a wave of sadness that this little gift could bring such joy to this child. Pulling myself together, I went next door to a 5th grade class, and as I approached a table of 3 young children, 2 boys and a girl, the young girl grabbed my hand, and said, “Will you please be my lawyer?” “Please, I really want a lawyer.” “I promise that I will work really hard if you be my lawyer.” No, I did not disclose that I am not a lawyer because, frankly, in her world I am.

I just stood there, and believe it or not, was speechless. What do I say? How would I even begin to say no to this little girl? I don’t have that kind of resistance to little people. So I stepped out of the room, and from behind me the two boys are now chiming in, “Please be my lawyer too!” There was something about the plea from the little girl, her promise to “work really hard” that just knocked me over. For a moment I paused, and thought to myself — “WHEN, when will I fit this in?” My calendar is already ridiculous. Then I thought — “Of course, you can do this. Plus, how do I ask you to give the time if I am not willing to make the time. I finally stepped out of the room to talk with School #29 LFL Faculty Adviser, Nanette Ross, about mentoring this particular little girl. Nan took one look at me, and laughed, when I said I wanted to mentor this little girl, Anjay Bradley. Nan laughed,  “They got to you didn’t they Mary, oh good!!” With that Nan hugged me, and said, “Oh Mary, thank you — we are so desperate for mentors!”

So here is the plea. There are more than 400 children in this school. Many of these children are children with severe special needs and physical disabilities. The sight of a school hallway with dozens of mini wheelchairs and walkers was heartbreaking. I was reminded that School #29 is the primary elementary school for these very special children, making the work of the School #29 administration and teachers even more extraordinary.

Twenty years ago when Lawyers for Learning was started, this program grew to more than 100 mentors. Last year, we had approximately 30 mentors, and for this new school year, we have just about a dozen registered mentors. We need to find a way to re-infuse this program, or perhaps to explore a new model. I am writing to plead with you to consider taking on a student. I am making a special appeal on behalf of LFL Chair, Elena Renner, that she is in dire need of mentors and new LFL Committee members. As I was reminded by Spencer Ash yesterday, only say “yes” to this requirement if you’re ready to show up, do the work, and make a commitment.

This past Monday, the LFL Committee hosted the always popular Lawyers for Learning Thomas & Solomon 20th Annual Golf Tournament at Eagle Vale. A perfect weather day, with good people, made for a great tournament. Following the tournament and dinner, we had the opportunity to meet three students from School #29, all sisters. All three are either alums of the LFL program, or currently being mentored. What makes this story extra special, is that all three girls have been mentored by the same wonderful member, attorney Mike Davis.

We had Dajaneé Parrish, Communications Coordinator contact Mike to learn more about his incredible commitment to this program. Here is what we learned:

How long have you mentored? 19 years

How many student’s have you mentored?  A total of 7 students.

Why did you decide to mentor? My then co-worker Michelle Romance Crain encouraged me to do it at a time when my daughter was 13 and did not have much interest in Dad helping her with her schoolwork .

What does the program mean to you? I have really enjoyed it. I have observed the success of my students and they have told me repeatedly how much they enjoy participating. The people in attendance at this year’s LFL golf tournament dinner heard first hand from my former student, Essence Wilburn, how highly she regards the program. Essence is in her second year of college and aspires to be a lawyer! It can be hard to fit an hour into your schedule each week (use your lunch hour) but for me, whenever I go, I come away relaxed and feeling great about the time I spent with my student. The students know they can count on me to be there every week and I know how important that commitment is to them.

Essence Wilburn  former mentee of Mike Davis.

Essence Wilburn former mentee of Mike Davis.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about mentoring? Please give it a try. I am confident it will be a positive part of your week and you will be improving the life and education of an RCSD student.

In recent years, I met with School Superintendent, Bolgen Vargas, about our program, along with then-LFL Chair, Melanie Wolk, and he was so grateful for this long-term commitment to School #29. His challenges in the district seem almost insurmountable.

I know you are busy, and I know that because I see how much time so many of you are spending here at the MCBA, while also giving your time to other interests and community boards. And now I am asking you to find time for ONE MORE good deed. Another deed that will cut into practice time, family time, and just down time, but I am asking. for you to consider it. I am hoping not 10 or 20 or even 30 of you say yes, I am hoping dozens and dozens and dozens of you will step up and say, “YES!” We all keep hearing (and say) that change is needed to help our youth so I’m asking you to be the change and be a mentor.

Thank you Mike for your incredible commitment! Karen McCloskey and Diana Irizarry, also dedicated mentors for many years,  were also there on Tuesday to distribute bags. There are others like Mike, Karen and Diana  that remain so committed. Thank you to all the mentors past, present and future!

Thanks for checking in…


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