Mentor story resonates with friends of program

Warwick Beacon ·

Cindy Joaquin and Tamarra Jeffreys met each other more than seven years ago. They didn’t hit it off right away.

“At our first meeting she was very shy and wouldn’t even look at me,” Joaquin said.

Jeffreys, who was then a fourth-grader, remembers Joaquin seeking to break the ice and establish a relationship however she could. She tried math games, crafts and a number of other activities, but “nothing worked.”

Sometimes when they met, there were no planned activities. They’d talk about day-to-day occurrences, what was going on in school or what was planned for the weekend.

A lot of that has changed now that Jeffreys is a senior at West Warwick High and will graduate in June. The awkwardness of those early weekly visits is gone.

“We generally catch up on what has happened in her week, how work and school are going and how she is keeping up her grades,” Joaquin told a gathering Monday night at the Radisson Hotel.

The Mentor Rhode Island event was an opportunity for friends of the program to introduce their friends to mentoring. It was a chance for the organization to tell its story and, in the process, reach out for more mentors and financial support.

Mentor RI started the Warwick mentor program more than two decades ago. It continues today, not only running the Warwick program but also programs in other cities and towns while providing training and background checks for other programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Dana Papitto, coordinator of the West Warwick public school mentor program since 2012, said without Mentor RI there would be no professional development opportunities. She spoke of coordinator and mentor workshops dealing with such issues as trauma informed care, depression and anxiety in youth, relationships and recruiting mentors.

“They have been a huge part of helping me grow as a professional and establishing and maintaining a successful mentor program in our school district,” she said.

Mentor RI was thrown a curve last year when, because of budget constraints, the Warwick School Committee eliminated its entire $102,000 allocation. The Mentor RI board chose to keep the program running that pairs mentors with 118 Warwick students with the hopes the budget would be resolved and its funding restored.

That hasn’t happened yet, so in part, Monday’s event was also a plea for donations.

Mentor board member Brendan Ahearn made the pitch that “giving is getting” and that the happiest people are altruistic. Apart from grants, Ahearn said the agency has about 75 consistent donors, a number they hope to double. He also urged current donors to “stretch to the next level of giving…you deserve to be happy.”

Giving of oneself, as Joaquin related, is also a part of mentoring. She spoke of that impact.

“Meeting Tamarra has been one of the most positive and rewarding things that has happened to me. I have watched this young lady go from that shy little fourth-grader to a sometimes cranky, not speaking to me teenager to an 18-year-old young woman who is soon to graduate from high school and is setting up a path to success.”

Jeffreys said Joaquin really pushed her and that she really knew she hated school. Yet, she added, “I wouldn’t trade her for the world.”

Joaquin said mentoring has been so much more than a weekly visit to school.

“I think I have become a better person for having this young lady in my life. I always refer to her as my little girl,” she said.