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New York City
April 2002

A Productive Summer
By Matilda Raffa Cuomo & Louisa Efua Essandoh

Summertime, the three months in which students’ brains inexplicably turn to mush, is the bane of every educator’s professional life. The learning experience of the past school year seems to evaporate in a puff of ferris wheel rides, outings to the pool, and too much TV. But summer doesn’t have to be that way, and it is our job as mentors—and simply as caring and concerned adults—to help our youth to make the most of the summer and to explore the world. The classroom learning is over; let the fun begin!

Mentoring USA will kick off the summer with our Second Annual Mentor-Mentee Picnic, held in Central Park in June. It is a well-kept secret that groups and organizations such as ours can reserve space in the city parks for a mere $25 application fee! Many of the youth in our programs, especially kids from the outer boroughs, have never experienced the magic of Central Park. We bring mentors and mentees together from our 60 program, offering sports, arts and crafts activities for youngsters. Everyone enjoys a picnic lunch. It’s a great way to wrap up the year and provide some closure for mentor pairs that won’t be meeting over the summer—as well as providing a forum for planning and discussion for those pairs that will. Many mentors choose to work with other mentors and youth from their site to design group mentoring activities over the summer. This can be a fun complement to the exclusively one-on-one mentoring that happens during the school year.

Mentoring USA’s volunteers are always amazed to discover how many low-cost (or free!) activities this city has to offer. We have compiled a guide to summer activities for our mentors and mentees that include little-known New York summer traditions such as the following: Macy’s Fishing Contest (an annual contest open to children 15 and under in Prospect Park, with free equipment and instruction provided), the annual Morningside Park Double Dutch Tournament, Rock ‘n’ Roller blade (free in-line skate rentals, a DJ, a 4ft disco ball; the event rotates around to different parks throughout the city), and many more.

We suggest that mentors focus on a few areas when they work with youth over the summer. The first is history and culture. New York neighborhoods are so varied and rich, and in the year following September 11, it seems important to help kids to re-connect with the city. We have heard over and over again from youth in our program, especially on the Lower East Side, that they don’t feel very safe in New York. We need to take them out and let them see that life goes on not as normal, certainly, but in spite of adversity. Ground Zero may be important for some young people to see for themselves. Be sure to introduce children to local libraries; sign them up for cards and help them to choose books about their neighborhoods or ethnic backgrounds. Ask at the library for a copy of their invaluable booklet, “New York Books for New York Kids.” Books are listed by borough-interest as well as reading level.

Regular exercises and activity should be encouraged. We can suggest that kids get off the train or bus a stop early and walk, or think about going outside to pitch a ball or even just take a walk.

This year Mentoring USA has partnered with the NY Jets and United Way to offer a fabulous opportunity to our pairs: free tickets to see the NY Jets! This year our mentors and mentees will have the opportunity to get together a little before the start of the school year, at the NY Jets Preseason Games on Aug. 24 and Aug. 30. Football fans or not, what youth wouldn’t jump at the chance to take at trip to the Meadowlands with a mentor? A few lucky youth and mentors will even get the chance to participate in the coin-toss on the field…a great way to generate enthusiasm for the upcoming mentoring year!

While mentors and mentees enjoy their time together this summer, Mentoring USA staff will be hard at work recruiting mentors for the upcoming school year. Even the best mentoring relationships are subject to life’s whims—children change schools, mentors get transferred, or married, and move out of the city. Approximately half of our nearly 1,000 mentors will not return, so during the summer we enthusiastically recruit more mentors. Mentors are especially needed to work with youth in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island and Queens…if you have ever said to yourself, “I really would like to be a positive role model to a young person,” this is the time to try! To become a mentor, call (212) 253-1194, ext. 454 or email musa@mentoringusa.org.

For all the hard work you do all year long, all of us at Mentoring USA wish you a happy and healthy summer!#

Matilda Cuomo is the former first lady of NY and founder and Chairperson of Mentoring USA.


Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: ednews1@aol.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2001.