Kids Hope USA is a national mentoring program. Its mission is to build caring relationships, one-to-one. Its method is to partner one church with one public school. Each participating church hires a part-time director who is trained by the national organization to train and supervise volunteer mentors. Each mentor develops a caring relationship with one at-risk child.
Volunteers are carefully vetted, including a police background check, an interview with the director, and approval by the dean of the Cathedral. The Episcopal Diocese of Texas requires that they also complete the Safeguarding God’s Children training.
Christ Church Cathedral is partnered with Rusk School, located at 2805 Garrow St., just a short distance east of the Cathedral. Rusk is a magnet school for science and technology and covers grades pre-kindergarten through eighth. Ninety-five percent of the students are Hispanic. Children are recommended for the program by their teachers or by a member of the school administration. Parental permission must be received before they can be given a mentor. The KHUSA director interviews each child, then mentor-mentee matches are made.
Each mentor-mentee relationship has a volunteer prayer partner who prays for the success of the relationship. Ideally, the prayer partner and mentor stay in contact on a regular basis so the prayer partner can stay apprised of how things are going for child and mentor. A prayer partner can be an invaluable support to the mentor. Kids Hope USA mentors must avoid any suggestion of proselytizing, lest by law the program not be allowed in public schools. A mentor carries the love of God personally to the child through the relationship and a prayer partner does behind-the-scenes work of praying for the needs of mentor and child.
Mentors meet with their kids individually for one hour a week, on campus, throughout the school year. Each mentor must volunteer for one school year, though many mentors decide to stay with her or his child for two or more years.
The child’s teacher and the mentor coordinate the day and time for the meeting to occur each week. Because uncertainty is the norm for most of these children, the mentor’s faithfulness to the weekly visit is imperative. Through this faithful, caring relationship, the child learns to trust. If the mentor is unable on occasion to keep the visit, she or he must notify the director, preferably in advance, and make arrangements for a substitute mentor for that visit. Another option is to reschedule the visit for later in the week. In the case of out of town travel, the mentor must inform her or his student in advance of the travel dates so the child will know when to expect the mentor to return.
These children are at-risk by virtue of living in poverty. They are trapped at the lowest levels of human development, at the levels of survival and belonging. It just takes one caring adult in the life of such a child to spark not only a vision for a better life but the hope to achieve it. Studies have shown that one caring adult spending a mere one hour a week with an at-risk child actually enables that child to access higher functions of her or his brain and thus begin to learn. Steven Gutierrez, former principal at Rusk School, wrote his doctoral thesis on mentoring, based on the KHUSA model at Rusk. He found that kids who were mentored demonstrated a higher rate of improvement on testing than the control group of non-mentored kids.
The reward is not measured by testing alone, however. A caring relationship changes everything, for the child as well as the mentor. Usually the change is obvious and you see your student grow happier and more confident as your relationship develops. Visiting your student becomes a highlight of your week.