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Paul’s Place program shapes lives of Southwest Baltimore youth

Ursula V. Battle | 3/28/2014, 6 a.m.
Middle school student and mentor LaTajah Birdsong helps Kaleigh Smith with school work. Through the program, older students mentor and help younger students with various tasks such as homework, reading and general activities. (Courtesy Photo/Paul’s Place)

— Reflecting on her earlier years, Chanel Dance, a 17-year-old year-old student at Coppin Academy, shared her thoughts about how the after-school Mentor Program at Paul’s Place had changed the course of her life.

“They helped me to get my life back on track,” she said. “They helped me to study for the SATs and prepare for college. Overall, the program helped me to become more mature, and not just another statistic.”

Chanel is a high school mentor with the Paul’s Place “Mentor Program.”

Through the program, older students such as Chanel mentor and help younger students with various tasks such as homework, reading and general activities. The program is held every Tuesday and Thursday, and teaches the older students the importance of being a positive role model for young children.

Mykol Thomas and LaTajah Birdsong are middle school mentors with the program.

“The program has helped me a lot with my grades,” said Mykol. “I was having a hard time with math. I was getting B’s and C’s in math. Now I am starting to get A’s and B’s, and I am helping to tutor the other kids.”

LaTajah added, “I used to be shy. Thanks to this program, I now feel more comfortable talking to people. I also enjoy dancing and sharing my poems with the other students.”

Tissa Thomas is the Youth Program Coordinator for Paul’s Place.

“We have had a lot of positive relationships built from the Mentor Program,” said Thomas. “A lot of our kids and families do know each other, so it works out to be a great match for our kids. They help each other with their homework, and issues such as bullying and family issues. They form a good communication bond.”

Paul's Place is a catalyst and leader for change, improving the quality of life in the Washington Village/Pigtown neighborhood and the surrounding Southwest Baltimore communities.

Paul's Place serves more than 80,000 guests annually, providing programs, services and support that strengthen individuals and families, foster hope, personal dignity and growth. The Mentor Program is one of several initiatives offered by Paul’s Place to support the community.

“Many of the kids come from challenging situations such as drug-infested neighborhoods and low-income families, said Sadie Smith, deputy director of Paul’s Place. “Others are the first in their families to consider going to college. Some of them do not have role models. The high school students are able to say ‘I am a role model’ and have made enough good choices to be a role model to other students.”

She added, “It builds self-confidence and worth. It also shows the other students that they can do it too. It provides encouragement, and creates a ripple effect of hope.”

According to Smith, 35 elementary, 24 middle and 15 high school students participate in the Mentor Program.

“We want to ensure they are learning across all grade levels,” she said. “In the elementary program, we focus on ensuring they are on grade level, at the middle school level we look at things such as peer pressure and bullying, and at the high school level, we focus on career development and college.”