The Center for Community Alternatives seeks to help ‘at risk’ youth change their future through support and friendship.
Jason Torreano, 24, works as the mentor recruiter at the Center for Community Alternatives located at 115 E. Jefferson St., Suite 300, in Syracuse. The Stand’s community correspondent Ame Donkor conducted a Q&A with Jason to learn more.
The Stand: How long has the organization been around?
Jason Torreano: CCA has been around since 1981 as an individual agency.
TS: Part of CCA’s focus is on middle school aged kids. What are the pros & cons (if any) of mentoring kids at this age?
JT: We tend to emphasize the positive in our field — and to be completely honest, I really can’t think of any negatives of mentoring anyone, whether they’re middle school, high school or college aged individuals. If people want a little advice along the way and others are willing to offer it freely, I don’t see any negatives with that at all.
As far as the pros, I believe middle schoolers are at a crossroads in their lives. Middle school is when the pressure to fit in really starts to build, when the pressure to engage in a whole host of activities that may not be all that positive for youth really start to manifest themselves. We believe placing middle school students with mentors at this critical junction helps the students to mature. It is our hope that by engaging in a positive relationship with a caring adult role model, the students also make wise decisions when it comes to other aspects of their lives.
TS: What got you interested in the Center for Community Alternatives? How long have you been with the organization?
JT: I spent two years working with street children in South Africa, and I loved it. I likely would have stayed had I been able to afford to live and do what I was doing. After South Africa, I spent a few years working as an anchor and reporter in TV news around the United States. My last job was for the Time Warner 24-hour news channel in Buffalo. I didn’t feel like I was making a difference — or a tangible difference. I wanted to work again with a nonprofit organization that works toward empowering people in the community. I’ve found that at CCA. I’ve been at CCA now for several months — and hope to stay many, many years.
TS: What are some of the benefits that mentees can look forward to?
JT: I think during mentoring people have the opportunity to enhance the kids’ lives, but they also enhance their own in the process. I believe the benefits to the child are often spoken of (a reduced likelihood to engage in self destructive behavior … like not going to school, doing drugs, etc.). What isn’t emphasized is how much mentors also stand to benefit. The kids we place you with are incredibly resilient. They have a tough outer shell, but just below the surface exists a kid like any other kid — and that child has a lot that often can enhance their mentors’ lives as well.
TS: What are some of the reactions you get from the mentors as they watch the kids progress in their schooling & outlook on the future?
JT: By and large, our mentors find the experience to be a very positive one. They see the ups and downs in their child’s life and they’re present to celebrate the positives, and also to help them through (and possibly, in the future, to avoid) some of the negatives. They see, first hand, how these “at-risk” youth really are fantastic individuals who, given the opportunity, can do just as well as their peers who may not be labeled “at risk.”
TS: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
JT: We do provide training for interested mentors as well as follow up support. If anyone you know wants to mentor, have them reach out to me. I’m at 422-5638 ext. 259 or my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.