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Amazing Kids! - Amazing Mentors! Project

David Kobrin's Story:  I Care

David Kobrin has been a mentor since 1994.  In an interview with Amazing Kids!, he gave these reasons for sharing his story with Amazing Kids! supporters:

"I truly hope my story can inspire people to become mentors.  My only hope is to share my experience and let other people see how simple it is to change the life of a young person."

Note: The following story is true, but the names of the boys and their families have been changed to protect their privacy.


An Experience In Mentoring Inner City Youth

By David Kobrin

Author's note: The names of the boys and their families have been changed to protect their privacy.

Part I

        It was a rainy weekday morning in the last days of December 1994 when I first entered the forbidding boundaries of Watts, California. If I had believed everything I read, I'd have thought I was crazy to venture into this part of town. After all, I had been in Los Angeles during the riots and seen the damage thrust  upon people and property in this location.

        There was nothing obviously wrong with the neighborhood when I arrived. The giant housing project of Nickerson Gardens loomed like a fort over the area I was visiting.  I had been drawn to this section of town for one reason, and one reason only.  I wanted to mentor a child from the inner city and had heard of a Watts organization prepared to match people with students.

        With the light rain turning to a downpour, I found the small, building which were the headquarters for Los Angeles Cities in School, a chapter of a national group which caters to the needs of young people all across the country.

        As I parked the car and walked around the gated building to the entrance, I didn't see many people on the streets.  Obviously the rain had something to do with this, but even so, the emptiness of the streets made me wonder if people were afraid to travel these dangerous streets.  An
elementary and middle school were located down the street and I figured traffic to and from those places would provide some life.

       It dawned on me we were in the middle of winter vacation, but I still figured there would be more activity. Those thoughts stayed with me as I entered the gated building to talk with the mentor coordinator for the group.  I felt no apprehension and looked forward to speaking with the people running this organization.

       The building was sparsely decorated, but the essential telephones and desks were neat and orderly.  I sat on a comfortable leather couch and waited.  A couple of minutes passed by and the mentor coordinator, Michelle, came in and introduced herself.  She was a small woman with sharp facial features and a warm smile.  Her strong handshake made me feel welcome and she escorted me to the back room to meet Leon Watkins, the managing director of Los Angeles Cities in Schools.

        Watkins was the opposite of the mentor coordinator.  He was a large man who occupied a big desk in a small office.  His personality was disarming and he graciously welcomed me into his domain.  I soon discovered he had been a community leader for close to twenty years and this job was his latest crusade to help the young people of Los Angeles.

        From the moment he started describing his mission I knew this would be a group in which I wished to be involved.  I also knew I would have to prove myself to him.  He explained many people had come in with quick solutions to complex problems and then disappeared when the going got tough.  Here I was a white person coming into a black neighborhood with wonderful ideas of how I could help a child.  I probably fit the bill of the type of person he would be wary of.

        After a few minutes of general introduction, I told the two of them how I ended up in their office this rainy morning.  A month earlier I had traveled to 75th street school in South Central Los Angeles to meet a dynamic counselor, Re Kelly-Weekes, who ran a peacemaking program at the school.  While I was in her office, three young boys happened to be sitting around, waiting to talk to her.

        I struck up a conversation with them and for the first time heard from a child what growing up in an inner city is like; helicopters flying overhead, gunshots, gangs, dirt, and crime were the rule, not the exception.  It happened to be a few days after Halloween, but these boys did not dare walk into the streets to go trick or treating.

        A year earlier, in a section of Pasadena, three boys had been shot to death in a mistaken identity shooting and I'm sure this incident, coupled with a hostile environment, made trick of treating an impossible game. They described how they had cousins in jail, parents who had been
shot or killed, friends arrested for selling drugs at the tender age of fourteen and forbidden sections of town where only the brave survive and the wrong color could get you murdered.

        They shared their views of the 1992 riots which erupted less than two miles from their homes.  The police station next to their school was the ground zero station. The national guard used the 75th street school playground as a staging area to fight off the looters and rioters.  The picture appeared bleak and these boys were only ten years old.  My heart went out to them.  Who wouldn't want to encourage a child after what I heard.  And you know, the funny thing is they had hardened
themselves in such a way that they could almost smile as they recounted their daily lives.

        All except one boy.

        His name was Carl Harris and there was no smile on his face.  He had lost his mother two years earlier in a hit and run accident.  Trouble followed him around school and in his class.  I decided to do some origami with them since I enjoy creating things out of paper and giving them to kids.  If there were ever three boys who would benefit from a paper bird or crane, they would.  I fashioned a bird whose wings move when you pull the tail.  I presented it to Carl and
for a couple of minutes he smiled from ear to ear.  Whatever heartbreaking stuff he was dealing with went away for those few seconds and he looked like a happy ten year old.

        And that moment, that smile, that boy changed my life in the most incredible, positive, way.

Part II

<---Back to the Amazing Mentors! page

Get Involved!  Numbers to Call: 

1-877- BE A MENTOR - Punch in your zip code to find a mentoring opportunity nearest you!

The National Mentoring Partnership: www.mentoring.org
Phone:  202-729-4340

The Mentor Resource Center: www.calmentor.ca.gov
Phone: 800-444-3066

Los Angeles Area Mentoring Organizations:

Communities In Schools/ The Los Angeles Mentoring Partnership
Phone: (213) 627-0311

Family Helpline: (213) 473-3706 or (323) 249-8876 

Los Angeles Team Mentoring, Inc.
Phone: 213-489-5667 TeamWorkLA@aol.com

Or email Amazing Kids! at: info@amazing-kids.org. Please use the subject: "Amazing Mentors!"

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