Students mentor youth in Law Center program
Every Monday, history freshman Chris Chambers wakes up bright and early to bike to the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity – a charter school that stands only a five-minute drive from the University.
By 7:15 a.m. he’s sitting down with eighth grade student Jordan North. They talk about Jordan’s day, his plans for the future, what he wants to do for college. The meetings only last a little less than an hour, but the goal is to make a profound difference in students like Jordan.
Chambers is one of 42 UH students, alumni, staff and community members who has spent the past semester volunteering with WALIPP eighth graders. The meetings aren’t to discuss grades or responsibilities – they’re just to provide a mentor for the students.
“The thing about speaking with someone like an eighth grader is to have a level of mutual respect,” Chambers said.
The program, the Juvenile and Capital Advocacy Project, is the pet project of David Dow, a UH Law Center professor who is seeking to reduce crime through increased education. His 2012 TEDx talk, “Lessons from Death Row Inmates,” expanded on this, and the program quickly followed.
“Everyone needs a mentor, we could all use a cheerleader in our lives, someone to listen to us, to affirm we are great, awesome people who have a lot of potential,” said director of JCAP’s mentorship program Erin Osborn.
“They’re really there to be a supporter and a cheerleader. Not a teacher, principal, parent. Not there to gripe at them. Let them brainstorm on their own, teach them problem solving skills.”
Mentors like Chambers are committed to their students for a full school year. In his time over the Fall Semester, Chambers learned Jordan wants to play for the NBA and become a video game designer, and Chambers has been hard at work telling him to work towards his dreams.
“(In) ten years (Jordan) would probably be about 23, I would hope that he’s either finishing his senior year or graduating college at a technology school, (studying) computer system,” Chambers said.
The program only began a year ago, and hasn’t seen concrete results yet. But Osborn is conducting research on the students’ progress into high school and beyond and hopes to gather concrete proof that the program is helping the kids. Osborn meets with the students nearly every day, and has built a relationship with them herself.
“I remember when I was in eighth grade, I saw people in college I thought they were up there. I thought they were giants,” Chambers said. “It’s good to see I’m not too adult, but I’m still mature. It’s always good to have adult mentors, but it’s also good to have (ones your own age). It makes the whole experience less stressful.”