Volunteers Become Pillars of Hope for Rochester City School Kids

Feb 1, 2016

Kareem Hayes and another volunteer spend time with 6th graders at MLK Boys Academy.
Credit Veronica Volk / WXXI News

A student mentor program aims to introduce children in Rochester City Schools to positive role models in their community. Pillars of Hope invites African American and Hispanic adults to spend the first Monday of every month in a classroom, and they have just expanded to School #9's MLK Boys Academy.

Justin Ortiz has been a volunteer with the program for two years.

"It's awesome to be able to take my circumstances, everything that I've been through, and present it to them, and say, you don't have to go through this."

He says when he was younger, his own role models were limited.

"I looked at TV a lot, watched movies, so that's kind of what I aspired, I wanted to be a basketball player, same thing that a lot of these kids want to do."

The Pillars program, Ortiz says, isn't meant to discourage kids from chasing their dreams, it's about providing more options.

In the classroom, 11-year-old students are broken up into small groups, and paired with volunteers. Overheard conversations center around the future, where the kids see themselves in it, and what they can do to get there.

One volunteer turns a discussion about love of video games into an opportunity to talk about higher education.

"Have you ever thought about turning that into a career?" asks Kareem Hayes, who works with the school district. "Did you know there's a college, right here in town, where that is something that they do?"

Councilwoman Loretta Scott, who also volunteers with the program, says this exchange is what Pillars of Hope is all about.

"The Pillars program offers African American professionals an opportunity to be present and accessible to children."

Right now Pillars of Hope is in eight city schools, but they want to expand to every Rochester school and reach as many children as possible. They are currently seeking volunteers who can commit an hour a month to join them. More information available on the city's website.