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Letters from the Capitol

Letters from the Capitol

By: Governor Phil Bredesen

Dear fellow Tennessean:
This is the time of year when we celebrate the joy and goodwill of the holiday season, and are truly thankful for the time spent with family and friends.
 Andrea and I were thrilled to share one of our favorite holiday traditions with other Tennessee families earlier this month as we kicked off the holiday season at the State Capitol. Children from local school choirs came to sing carols, view the decorations and Christmas tree lighting, and enjoy hot cider and cookies with their parents.
 But even in the midst of this holiday cheer, I am ever mindful of the children in our state who may not have a family with whom to celebrate the season — our children in foster care. That is why I started my mentoring initiative last January to help provide additional support for teenage children in foster care as they transition into adulthood.
 In less than a year, I’m pleased to announce the mentoring initiative program has had great success, with more than 200 mentors currently volunteering their time to help shape the lives of young adults across the state. These mentors may never know the impact the investment of their time and energies will have on the lives of these teenagers. All it takes to make a difference in the life of a child is just one person who sees in that young person more than they may see in themselves.  
In Knoxville, 10 members of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church have taken steps to become mentors and most have already been matched with teens, including the pastor who began mentoring three children from the same family earlier this month. Another busy master’s student at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville has truly helped rehabilitate one severely neglected and abused young woman through her constant support and praise. The teen has improved her performance at school and has learned to deal with her issues of trust in the time she has been in the program.
The trend is the same across the state, and even our law enforcement officers have donated their time. Ryan, a recent police academy graduate, has been mentoring a middle Tennessee teen since September who has been in state custody since he was five. Ryan and James have developed a unique bond through the countless hours they have shared at the zoo, Vanderbilt football games and enjoying Thanksgiving dinner together.
Mentors establish continuous, one-on-one relationships with the teens with whom they’re paired, serving as positive role models and becoming respected friends. Teens and mentors are paired based on “natural matches” and shared interests, and together they work toward setting goals and accomplishing them.
Research shows teens participating in this program are 46 percent less likely to initiate drug use and 27 percent less likely to get in a fight. They are also less likely to skip classes and miss school, and they are more confident in their ability to complete schoolwork. Our teens in foster care deserve every advantage and opportunity that other children have, and the mentoring initiative gives them the best possible chance at a seamless shift into the adult world.
We need good folks from all walks of life to share some of their time and wisdom with these young people. By giving some of our most vulnerable kids—those living in foster care—that support, we boost their chances of successfully becoming a part of the grown-up world. 
Adult Tennesseans interested in becoming mentors must commit to taking a mentoring training class, pass a mandatory background check, and agree to spend at least four hours per month with their child. Adults wanting to apply for mentorship can call 1-866-519-LIFT (5438) to receive an application, or log on to www.tn.gov/mentoring.
January will mark the seventh annual recognition of National Mentoring Month, a campaign spearheaded by the Harvard Mentoring Project of the Harvard School of Public Health, MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, and the Corporation for National and Community Service. The campaign’s primary goal is to recruit more volunteer mentors to help young people recognize their full potential, and this year’s theme is: “Share what you know. Mentor a child.”
As the end of 2007 rapidly approaches and we begin contemplating our New Year’s resolutions, I ask that we all keep the mentoring initiative in mind. Helping teenagers in foster homes prepare for the transition to adult responsibilities is a critical investment in our youth, and by helping another, we find we often help ourselves as well.
If you have questions or comments about this issue or any other, please email me at phil.bredesen@state.tn.us.
Published in The Messenger 12.26.07

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