SU in NYC: SU Mentor Mentee Alliance Spotlight

1/23/2018

A LPSHS student poses with Otto the OrangeDown the street from the American Stock Exchange in lower Manhattan is a school just as Orange as Syracuse University. While it may not have a quad or bright orange banners, the Leadership and Public Service High School (LPSHS) is just as orange as any other building on campus. In 1994, Arents Award winner Donald Schupak ´64, L´66 was a catalyst for creating the LPSHS, the School of Education and Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs have created partnerships with the New York City High School. However, one of the most impactful orange connections comes from an alumna and friend of Syracuse University who have created and nurtured New York City’s longest running and largest mentorship program.

The Syracuse University Mentor Mentee Alliance enters 2018 with 25 years’ experience of pairing high school students with NYC area mentors, primarily Syracuse University alumni. Ruth Sherman ´73 has carried the mantle of SUMMA Chairperson for the past eight years with Curt Dircks ´09 helping since 2013. “Ruth has so much passion for this group,” explains Curt. “As a former lawyer, she makes sure we dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s to make sure these kids and mentors have the best possible experience.” “I answered one of those all-call emails and was able to become a mentor,” said Curt. Ruth’s passion led Curt from being a mentor to one of the key organizers for the group and the mentorship program.

So what do these mentors do? “Something that we tell the mentors right off the bat is that in the short time you are with your mentee, you have to figure out how much involvement is needed.,” says Curt. “A lot of people come in gung-ho and some kids just need you to be there while others need a lot more than that.” “The students see their mentors as role models,” says Donna Mobley ´07. Mobley, a School of Education alumna, is the SUMMA Coordinator for the LPSHS and sees first hand the impact the Alliance has on students. “They’re looking for mentors who have gone off and done the things they want to do. Having a mentor can completely change their lives.”

For example, Curt was paired with a high school student named Jose. Most of the time, they were in the Lower East Side shooting hoops and eating pizza, talking about future school plans. “I knew someone working at the Brooklyn Nets and was able to get boxing tickets through him since Jose was into boxing,” says Curt. “I helped him through the college process and he graduated and went to school in Pennsylvania.” “There’s a 100% high school graduation rate for SUMMA students,” states Mobley. “We hope that there is help in terms of academics, getting ready for college and career, but you can’t discount the human aspect of the relationship; Someone to believe in you.”

SUMMA is always looking for more volunteers, but the alliance is looking for a very specific type of person. “We’re looking for someone who is altruistic,” says Curt. “We look for people who want to help and can help in various ways. We leave it open to the mentors we approve. Some try it out for a year and then go from there, while others want to jump right in and take on a freshman who is the toughest kid in class.” The club is typically looking for mentors ten years removed from college and younger. “Aside from being genuine and generous, that’s what we’re looking for. We want mentors who are set in a career to an extent but still young enough that it’s a little easier to connect with high school students.” So how do those outside of that window get involved? “They’re always willing to reach out,” says Curt. “We have a mentor who’s outside the range, but he’s been involved in past DOE (Department of Education) mentoring so we got his information and got him involved. Another way is donations. We have a very tiny operating budget and we try to do a whole lot for students, most importantly a trip for our students to Syracuse for Summer College. It can be any amount as every little bit helps with the budget and to improve the school.”

“It’s the one chance so many of the New York City Syracuse alumni will have to make a difference in a young person’s life,” says Mobley. “If anyone took PAF 101, they know their goal should be “To do good,” and this is one of the opportunities they have to do good.”

To get involved or make a gift please contact Curt at curt.dircks@mountsaintvincent.edu and visit giving.syr.edu/LPSHS

Originally appeared in the SU in NYC Newsletter