Mentors guide children with love, mercy

By Peggy Moraczewski
Correspondent

A mentoring ministry was started last year, established to guide at risk children toward positive life choices. The ministry works in conjunction with the diocesan Criminal Justice Ministry and is led by Deacon Roberto Martinez from Sacred Heart Parish in Austin. Currently, volunteer mentors from Sacred Heart Parish are partnered with fourth and fifth grade students at an elementary school in the Austin Independent School District (AISD). At a gathering in late August, mentors who participated in the program last year, unanimously said it was a mutually fulfilling experience. 
Deacon Martinez would like to see this ministry spread throughout public, private and Catholic schools. He lovingly refers to his ministry as, “Christ’s Disciples for Children.” By serving in this ministry, mentors are living the Works of Mercy: comforting the afflicted, counseling the doubtful and visiting the imprisoned. Some children have moved to different schools two to three times in a year or cannot speak English, all of which make it difficult to make good friends. One empathetic mentor who moved frequently as a child, emphasized the value of teaching children to read character and make good decisions. She also wants to help them understand there are consequences at school and in life. Another volunteer who was partnered with a student frequently found in the principal’s office said within a few weeks of spending time together, the student began to understand that people sincerely cared about him. His behavior reflected that awareness.
Joined by additional new volunteers this fall, Deacon Martinez hopes to reach 15 to 20 students; however, the need for additional mentors is vast. Mentors join the student for lunch, to play games, read or simply visit. English and Spanish speaking mentors are needed. The time commitment is minimal, but the impact is huge, Deacon Martinez said. One mentor enjoys it so much that she occasionally stays for recess and has joined the class on field trips. 
Often the reward for the mentors is the humbling realization that their consistent presence makes a difference in the life of a child. Dulce Gonzalez, a counselor for AISD, said, “Mentoring is essential for our schools. (Students) can definitely benefit from another positive adult in their lives. It means the world to them.” 
Deacon Doots Dufour, the diocesan director of the Criminal Justice Ministry, has spent many years studying those he ministers to in the criminal justice system. He has come to realize the value of stabilizing students in the fourth or fifth grade. The backgrounds of the children vary, one may be new to the U.S., while another may have a parent in prison, but often a common factor is poverty, Deacon Dufour said. However, a mentor can make all the difference.
“Mentors are the heroes in the life of the child,” he said. 
Mentor volunteers are required to go through the diocesan Ethics and Integrity in Ministry certification, and training and orientation through Austin Partners in Education, an AISD program. To volunteer or learn about bringing this ministry to your parish, contact Deacon Dufour at doots-dufour@austindiocese.org or Deacon Martinez at ahm@austin.rr.com or (512) 926-4856.