April 13, 2011 5:34 AM
CAROLYN BOLTON, NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
The 14th annual Mission for Mentors Telethon neared its goals Tuesday as prospective mentors phoned the organization's mobile headquarters at Center Court in Paseo Nuevo. A minute after 8 p.m., as the telethon was winding down and the TV cameras being shut off, 94 people had pledged a total of 4,888 volunteer hours to the Fighting Back Mentor Program, and organizers were hoping for a few last-minute stragglers. "We're already past last year," said Ann Cowell, a mentor program advocate. "We're hoping to shoot for a hundred mentors."
Last year, mentors pledged close to 5,000 volunteer hours, Ms. Cowell said.
"I've been talking to people on the phones and they've been saying that they've been getting a lot of men calling in, which is fantastic 'cause that's what we really needed," Ms. Cowell said. "We're really excited."
Penny Jenkins, project director for Fighting Back, also expressed enthusiasm about the program's success. "It really is rewarding to everybody involved," she told the News-Press.
Ms. Jenkins helped jump-start the mentor program 16 years ago to help reduce alcoholism and drug abuse through prevention, intervention, treatment and aftercare.
"I think we're getting a whole lot more kids that have experienced violence in their life, and more kids that have experienced gang members in their life," Ms. Jenkins said. "So, we're hoping to get more male mentors to work with the more high-risk kids."
While the program is underscoring its need for more male mentors, it still needs female mentors.
"We're emphasizing men, but we still need women," Ms. Jenkins said.
Some students in the program aren't in serious danger of becoming involved in gang-related or abusive activities, but nevertheless need someone to look up to.
"There's also kids that aren't high-risk," Ms. Jenkins said. "They just need a person -- a role model," she said.
Some of the highlights of the mentor program are those students who have excelled despite serious problems, Ms. Jenkins added.
"They come back and see us, and they're in college or they have a good job, or they have a family already," she said.
"The reward is seeing healthy kids as a result of (the mentor program)."
Students aren't the only ones benefitting from the program, Ms. Jenkins said. "The mentors get as much out of this as the kids do," she said.
Arnold Jaffe, an immigration attorney from Santa Barbara, has been a mentor for the past seven years. "It's been really incredible," he said. "You get to be a friend, you get to receive more than you give.
"I learned a lot about listening and sort of drawing a young guy out," he said of his partner, Anthony. "He was in the fourth grade when I started and is a junior in high school now," Mr. Jaffe said. "So, I've got to watch him play football and basketball and go out with girls."
The fun of being a mentor is learning how to give advice when asked for it, he said. "Which is an advantage of being a mentor as opposed to be a parent, where you feel like you have to give advice if you're not asked."
The program has been great because all it has ever required of him is to act naturally, Mr. Jaffe said. "It's a wonderful thing to make a difference in the world in a way that's really easy -- by just connecting and being you," he said. Mr. Jaffe emphasized the need to pay it forward.
"We all, I think, have gotten a certain distance in our lives because of the kindness of other people," he said. "And that's what this is about. It's been terrific."