Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Awardees show why ‘Mentoring Matters’

Three Laurel women honored as outstanding mentors for children of prisoners

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Brenda Ahearn⁄The Gazette
Mentors Brenda Zollicoffer (left), Quintina Parker (seated) and Trudy Perkins (right) pose with mentees Brianna and Kamaren Garland at the Greenbelt Marriott Jan. 27 prior to the First Annual Seed Awards, which honored mentors in Prince George’s County.
Quintina Parker wanted to work with children just as she did during her college days. For Trudy Perkins it was the chance to give out lessons rather than receive them. And Brenda Zollicoffer prayed for a way to make the most of her spare time.

The three Laurel women were recognized as outstanding mentors for children of prisoners during the inaugural Seed Awards on Jan. 27 in Greenbelt.

They all mentor girls in Prince George’s County through the Laurel-based Institute for Interactive Instruction, a nonprofit that runs the Healthy Mentoring Matters program, which presented the awards. ‘‘Seed” comes from the concept that mentoring is akin to planting seeds, mentoring coach Dana Bankins said.

Seven other mentors — from Bladensburg, Bowie, Clinton and Lanham — also received awards.

Healthy Mentoring Matters trains mentors and covers administrative costs using a $100,000 annual grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Mentors pay for outings with mentees out of their own pockets.

The institute recruits mentees mainly by reaching out to incarcerated parents. It also performs outreach at schools and other programs.

Perkins, communications director for U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Dist. 7) of Baltimore, has been mentoring a Largo 8-year-old since November after learning about the program online.

‘‘Now kids don’t have that large circle of support that I had growing up, so there is definitely a need for people ... that want to see a child succeed,” Perkins said.

LaMarr Shields, Healthy Mentoring Matters program director, said Perkins’ commitment could inspire others, given her hectic schedule.

‘‘I figure if this woman can work for this congressman, who travels all over the United States, [and] if she’s able to set aside some time to work with this young person, that says a whole lot about her,” Shields said.

Parker mentors Kamaren Garland, 5, and Zollicoffer mentors Kamaren’s sister, Brianna, 7, on a biweekly basis.

The girls have not been told that their mother is incarcerated. They live in Suitland with their grandmother Beatrice Saunders-Lee, who says she’s seen changes in the girls — like better report cards — since they began the program in March.

The mentors have also become a part of the Garland family, joining them in church and at Sunday dinners.

‘‘I’m blessed to have them [mentors] in my life,” Saunders-Lee said. ‘‘My girls really love them.”

Kamaren and Brianna said they love going to the movies with their mentors and meeting their mentors’ families.

‘‘I get excited to see her and spend time with her,” Brianna said of Zollicoffer.

Saunders-Lee works nights and has been in and out of the hospital for various health reasons, but the mentors have been there to help her regularly. For example, they watched the girls after she had her tonsils removed last month, she said.

Parker, an analyst with aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin, said Kamaren’s sweet nature and energetic personality are infectious.

‘‘I don’t get to be around kids that much,” she said. ‘‘Being around her definitely makes me want to have kids — if they could be like her.”

Catrice Alphonso, executive director for Healthy Mentoring Matters, said Zollicoffer and Parker stood out in part because they have invested in developing a relationship with the girls’ grandmother.

‘‘Some mentors take their mentee out and don’t invest in the caregiver,” she said. ‘‘When you strengthen that family bond, it enriches the mentoring experience. And not everybody is able to do that.”