Mentoring helps Camden youths, but more mentors needed

Posted: September 22, 2012

When 18-year-old twins Jordan and Brandon Tabb walk into Latino Barbershop II in East Camden, they are greeted with a smile - and responsibilities.

The brothers help barber Jorge Maldonado mop the floors and wipe the windows between clients, or sometimes before or after business hours.

Cleaning is part of working at a small business, Maldonado, 24, tells them, stressing to his young friends that running a business is hard work.

Since January, Maldonado has been mentoring the twins as part of a citywide program through the Center for Family Services, a nonprofit that runs more than 40 social-services programs in South Jersey.

Jordan and Brandon Tabb go to the barbershop about once a week and watch Maldonado cut and trim hair and beards. They talk about what's happening in school and their future plans.

"We talk about going to college," Maldonado said last week at his barbershop. "They talk about being athletes, but I tell them, 'You want to have a strong backbone.' "

The Pennsauken High School seniors, who live with their mother near Camden, are among the lucky few in the area to have a mentor.

The Camden County Mentoring Institute - a coalition of social-services, faith-based, and government agencies working to find mentors for county youths - held a recruitment drive Wednesday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Camden. Speakers included New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, Superior Court Judge Charles Dortch Jr., and former Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode, who runs a faith-based mentoring program for children of incarcerated parents.

The drive drew more than 200 potential new mentors and program supporters. By the end of the event, 46 people had signed up to be mentors, said Msgr. Michael Mannion, director of community relations for the Catholic Diocese of Camden.

"It brings tears to your eyes" to see so many young people in the courtroom without any support or guidance in their lives, Dortch said.

The Center for Family Services, part of the mentoring institute, has 62 mentoring pairs such as Maldonado and the Tabb brothers but is trying to match 40 more.

More than 20 youths are on a waiting list, said center mentoring coordinator Adam Gaubinger.

Chiesa shared his personal story of being only 8 when his father died and needing a male role model. The male relatives and family friends who took Chiesa under their wing happened to be lawyers, he said. Chiesa ended up looking up to them so much that he pursued that career.

"I was in a position of extreme good fortune," Chiesa said, adding that many young men in single-family homes are not as fortunate.

"Establishing a relationship just a few hours a month . . . will make a lifetime of a difference," he said.

In just nine months, Maldonado said, he has seen a difference in the twins. If they are running late or cannot make a scheduled mentoring visit, one of the boys will call him to let him know instead of just not showing up.

Jordan Tabb said he had learned about multitasking from Maldonado, who keeps a color-coded appointment book.

"He's real organized," said Jordan, who is thinking of a career in graphic design. "When I get my own place, I want it to be clean and neat."

The commitment to mentor a Camden youth through the institute is one year for a minimum of an hour a week. Those interested can call the Center for Family Services at 856-964-1990, Ext. 180.


Contact Claudia Vargas at 267-815-1953, cvargas@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, "Camden Flow," on philly.com.

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