With a bevy of braids and a big smile, Summer can really bust a move on roller skates. The 11-year-old has managed to stay out of trouble in her East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Even so, her mother, Patti Fountain, says, "Summer's seen a lot of things that she should not have in her young life."
Fountain, a single mom with health problems, wanted to see her daughter "in a positive environment where she's just able to be a child and not grow up too fast."
Gwyneth Gaul, a 28-year-old fundraiser for the Student Conservation Association, provides that positivity as Summer's mentor. The two were "matched" about 18 months ago by Amachi Pittsburgh, which pairs children of incarcerated parents with caring adults.
Gaul practices "strength-based mentoring," says Jessica Ruffin, Amachi's Community Impact Director. This approach focuses on the positive aspects of young people's lives, and asks mentors to nurture youths' inner strengths and gifts.
Though Summer was too shy to tell Gaul what activities she loves, Gaul observed her interests; in addition to dancing, on and off skates, she likes to make things with her hands. So Gaul enrolled Summer in art camp and public speaking and dance classes, and encouraged her to join a robotics club and her school's cheerleading team. Gaul has also reached out to Summer's family, taking younger brother DeSean on outings and driving Fountain to medical appointments.
"Kids of prisoners have just got a lot of things to overcome that any child shouldn't have to face," Gaul says. "When you have kids that are facing such serious challenges, it's got to be full-court press."
Amachi Pittsburgh is partly funded by the Family and Youth Services Bureau, Administration for Children and Families. For more information, go to www.amachipgh.org.
For more information about National Mentoring Month, including how to become a mentor, go to http://www.serve.gov/mentor.asp.
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