Nonprofit connects Georgia students with mentors for success

Angel Cruz is one of the students taking part in Mentoring for Leadership.

A nonprofit supporting students at Marietta High School say they're experiencing highs and lows navigating their program during a global pandemic.

Mentoring for Leadership pairs at-risk students with adults in the community to help them set and reach goals. Leaders of the nonprofit say this objective is a little more difficult in a world of distant everything. The group is housed in the high school, giving them a home-field advantage ... in normal times. 

"Being able to be that protective factor that's also in the schools," said Claire Dodd, program coordinator at Mentoring for Leadership. "We've got eyes and hands on them. It's been amazing to see these students just really succeed. Owning their own businesses, joining the military, higher ranks of the military."

The program officially started 10 years ago, but some of their mentors and founders have been doing this on their own for more than 30 years. Dodd says when lockdown first began, they slowed down their training and matching to learn how to adjust to the times. Now, they're back and running and using new tools to meet their own needs and the needs of their students. 

"Trying to offset isolation with things like Zoom or texting and calling have been big," said Dodd. "We've really ramped up our technology, our social media, we've tried to connect with our students in unique and creative ways that we wouldn't have normally necessarily needed to."

One of those students is Angel Cruz. He's a sophomore at Marietta High School who is also in his second year with Mentoring for Leadership. 

"COVID, nobody likes COVID," said Cruz. "But the thing that I've noticed through this entire COVID thing is no matter how far apart we are we are always there for each other."

Cruz says his mentor is great, and he also gets support from the nonprofit leaders and his peers in the program. 

"I used to be very troubled in school," said Cruz. "I had to change things around when I failed 8th grade. I'm supposed to be a junior. That opened my eyes to so much. I had to change my ways. and the guidance from mentoring for leadership was just amazing."

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Dodd says the program struggles to find new students right now since they aren't face-to-face with everyone at school. But, the students who are in the program are thriving and connecting in creative ways. They just need to find more ways to connect with those who need them. When FOX 5's Laura Neal asked Cruz what he would say to students on the fence about joining ...

"Don't let pride ruin opportunities for you," said Cruz. "Your pride will be your downfall. If you need help they will be there for you. when you need them most." 

When it comes to what the program needs, Dodd says they could always use more mentors and, of course, money. They're doing training and matchings over zoom right now and the time commitment is around two hours a month. Dodd says, whatever you put into this match you'll get back 10 fold with these students. 

"I've always tried to push myself and fellow students to be more involved with mentoring for leadership because it deserves so much 100% because all they've ever given us is 150%," says Cruz. 

To learn more about the program, go to its website.

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