Established nearly ten years ago, Mentoring USA (MUSA) is
the largest school and site-based, one-to-one mentoring program
in New York City. We look forward to expanding our program
to include almost 1,000 children in 2005.
The holidays are a special time of the year and MUSA works
hard to provide resources to children in our program, their
mentors, and their families so they can celebrate their faiths
in meaningful and enjoyable ways. Although children look forward
to receiving presents, our goal is to expose them to the diversity
of celebrated faiths, and to share in the many ways people
celebrate the holiday season.
We are fortunate to kick off the season by inviting over 600
of our mentors, mentees, and their families to see the world-renowned
Rockettes perform in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Through the generosity of Cablevision and Radio City Music
Hall, hundreds of children in our program will enjoy a show
that demonstrates different elements of the holiday season:
ice skating, a Christmas tree, toy soldiers, Santa Claus with
his helpers, and especially the birth of Jesus; bright memories
that will last a lifetime.
While the traditional story of “One Solitary Life” is
meaningful to Christians, it is also important that we recognize
other celebrations of the season. Every year, MUSA's holiday
party exposes children from our program to Hanukah, Kwanzaa,
and Christmas. We invite someone from each faith to share his
or her beliefs, and children attending the party consider this
the most important part of the evening.
Many people also contribute to our party. Recently, one of
my neighbors started a toy drive in the building where I live.
She arranged to collect age-appropriate presents for our children,
and when a neighboring building found out, it started its own
toy drive! Hundreds of toys were collected and then wrapped
by volunteers. We are grateful to Belinda Markel and Dr. and
Mrs. Roy Roistacher for their dedication in supervising the
toy drives, and also to the many volunteers who spent hours
at the Mentoring USA office helping to wrap gifts; these individuals
inspire our youth to appreciate the importance of giving.
We spend a great deal of time addressing cultural diversity
with our mentors in our BRAVE (Bias-Related Anti-Violence Education)
Juliana training, and events like the holiday party expose
children to the many different cultural traditions around us.
When children hear someone talk about their own religion or
read a story about a different faith, they remember that these
important histories and traditions go far beyond holiday materialism.
Book donation requests from MUSA have also received overwhelming
responses from publishers. We look forward to providing our
mentees with an age-appropriate book for them to read with
their families. Books are vital for every child's development
and our youth enjoy picking out their own books more than receiving
a toy. Giving each child a book is a wonderful ending to our
annual holiday traditions.
In addition to these important MUSA events, we have partnered
with other organizations in the community; New York University,
located near our parent organization HELP USA's Genesis Apartments
on 13th Street, invites children from the building to attend
a holiday party on campus. Thanks
to the generosity of NYU, a family of five was recently able
to attend the Big Apple Circus. We are also delighted that
one of Mentoring USA's program sites, Stanley Isaacs, is having
their own holiday party for mentors and mentees. Partnerships
like these are a vital part of our program because they expose
youth to exciting activities, new experiences, and the loving
attention of wonderful volunteer mentors.
Our hope for the holidays is that our children learn to understand
the diversity around them as they share this special time with
loved ones. Although Mentoring USA works to facilitate these
goals, parents/guardians, local leaders, school, and agency staff
also need to expose young people to the stimulating and exciting
traditions of others. This exposure is vital to a child's development
and will ultimately enable them to help build their own loving,
generous communities where they can live in harmony and peace.
Matilda Cuomo is the Founder and Chairperson of Mentoring USA and Janet Polli
is the Director of MUSA.