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LAMP program matches youths with volunteer mentors

| Monday, July 25, 2011

Lewis Carter Hicks of Homewood says the LAMP mentoring program has helped him see beyond his neighborhood.

"I think the mentor program is a nice thing for kids to explore a whole new world and have people to look up to," said Lewis, a fifth-grader at Faison PreK-8 in Homewood.

At least once a month, Lewis spends time with Sean Brennan of Hampton and his wife and two daughters, ages 12 and 14.

"I like having fun with the family," said Lewis, who lives with his mother and two older sisters. Last weekend, Lewis and the Brennans were going to the Wildwood Highlands family fun center in Hampton.

LAMP, or The Learning and Mentoring Partnership, is a five-year-old cooperative of Pittsburgh Public Schools; Family Guidance in Sewickley, a faith-based nonprofit; and area churches, including 10 in Homewood and North Way Christian Community Church in Pine, where the Brennans attend services.

Family Guidance does background checks on the volunteers and matches them with students based on shared interests.

The program includes one-on-one mentoring, in and out of school, and family mentoring, when whole families mentor a child. About 150 mentors are partnered with about 120 students, mostly from Homewood.

"It sounded like a great way to help a local community," said Brennan, 41. "Lewis is kind of like a little brother now to my daughters. He's gone to see plays the girls are in and dance recitals.

"He's happy to spend time with us."

Bryan McCabe, a pastor at North Way Christian Community Church, said LAMP has helped improve students' grades, attendance and behavior.

"Our LAMP kids are more confident in school. They're making better choices. My mentees will give me a call if they're having a tough time," said McCabe of Homewood.

A comparison of students' grades from when they started the mentoring program and the end of the 2010-11 school year shows that 20 percent increased their grades in reading and 26 percent did better in math, said Errika Fearbry Jones, Pittsburgh Public Schools' LAMP program coordinator.

About half of the students had fewer unexcused absences and behavioral problems.

"I think kids need another caring adult in their lives, it really just is impactful," Fearbry Jones said. "To show kids vision beyond their neighborhood, of other experiences, career paths and to encourage a student in school."

Beth Scharf, 60, of Cranberry said her mentee, Lewis' sister Whitney Carter, has changed remarkably over the nearly five years since they met.

"She had some anger issues at school and was getting suspended," Scharf said. "I tried to calm her down and talk to her about respect."

The two go out to dinner and spend time at Scharf's home. They've also gone to Sandcastle and Kennywood, and occasionally attend church together.

"She's worked through her anger issues. She hasn't been suspended in the last year and a half," Scharf said. "She seems interested in school now."

Carter is hoping to attend The Neighborhood Academy in Garfield, a college prep school for students from low-income families, as a ninth-grader this fall. She has a B average now.

"When I first got my mentor, I wasn't thinking about college," said Carter, 14. "I was just a kid who was going to school because her mom wanted her to."

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