July 6, 2018 – Christine Bordelon
Excitement was high June 16 in the parish center at All Saints Church in Algiers. It was “Match Day” for new and returning youths and mentors in the Isaiah 43 Mentoring Program.
To break the ice, Isaiah 43’s leadership team created a bingo game using facts about mentors and mentees to help them get acquainted. Mentees were invited to share individual successes and, when one mentee mentioned securing a summer internship, everyone applauded.
Kristina Gibson, program director for this Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans program, said All Saints is a great example of how adults can impact a child’s life. It is the largest mentoring site. Our Lady Star of the Sea and St. David parishes are others.
All Saints has 12 mentees and 13 mentors and is sponsored by the parish’s “Men of Vision” whose members act as role models, filling the void of male role models in the lives of youth, Gibson said. Male mentors are always needed in the program.
“It’s a struggle to recruit male mentors, but here at All Saints, the men have stepped up in a big way,” Gibson said. “This parish and the Men of Vision have been outstanding, and, through them, we have been able to really grow the program.”
“We offer them career opportunities and show them how to be leaders and try to connect kids with opportunities for jobs,” Dennis Ragas, president of All Saints’ Men of Vision, said.
Catholic Charities Isaiah 43 program concentrates on building future leaders and peacemakers in today’s youth (ages 10-18) while building community relationships and teaching youth to live by the Christian values of love, peace and forgiveness.
Mentors and mentees spend a minimum of four hours a month together and register for a minimum 14-month commitment, though it could be extended if both agree.
Gibson said mentors help teens navigate transitions from elementary to high school, and high school to college.
Ragas credits Isaiah 43 with uniting the parish. It’s not only helped youth but trained mentors in leadership skills and nurtured the Catholic faith in all participants.
Other facets of the program
Gibson said the mentoring program is just one of Isaiah 43’s ministries. There is also a Young Peacemakers Leadership Council (YPLC) that targets high school-age students seeking to develop leadership skills through monthly speakers and discussions on current events and government policy, seen through the Catholic social justice lens.
“It’s a great opportunity for youth,” Gibson said. For their year-long efforts, YPLC members received a $250 stipend, she said.
Other areas of concentration for Isaiah 43 include a parenting program now active in seven parishes that utilizes the Christian Active Parenting curriculum; and monthly peace prayer walks in different neighborhoods.
Mentors step up
“I always feel like working with children is important,” said teacher and first-time Isaiah 43 mentor Teresa Velazquez. “I feel like working with children is my mission, and Isaiah 43 is an extension of that.”
She called mentoring “play with a purpose” and uses planners with her mentees to set and meet goals and to always look toward personal improvement. She referred to the proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.”
“All Saints is that village church, and we are part of that community,” Velazquez said. “With everything going on in life, in addition to parents, we help kids find a direction and keep them focused and help them remember that God is in their lives and loves them. We love them and are here to support them.”
Warren Easton High class of 2020 member Andrelle Lewis, 16, an All Saints parishioner and Knights of Peter Claver junior daughter, is a mentee this year.
“Knowing that I am close to graduating, I need help on what I need to know in high school and going to college,” Lewis said. “I hope my mentor will give me survival tips and good study tips.”
Over the past few years, mentee Tarik Ragas learned to set and meet long-term goals and gained better study habits and more public speaking confidence from time with his mentor, engineer Ronald Dixon. Dixon even taught him to build a model bridge.
“I’ve gained a lot of trust and respect and a lot of knowledge about engineering,” he said about the mentoring program.
Cousins Korri Ragas and Rihanna Ragas enjoy having mentors there as added support.
“They really helped me with my working and study skills and my social relationships,” Rihanna, 12, a Helen Cox ninth grader said. “I wasn’t a real social person. They taught me how to open up, what to do and how to react in certain situations.”
Tanya Brooks brought her son, sixth-grader Amarie Brooks, 11, and her daughter, Taylor Brooks, to find mentors.
“I just want to give them something positive to do and have someone else they might feel comfortable talking to other than a parent,” Brooks said.