A report of the Morehouse Research Institute and the Institute for American Values states: “At least 80% of all Black children today can expect that a significant part of their childhood will be spent apart from their fathers. ” The Grandfathers Group Mentoring Program sees itself as one local solution to this national problem.
The Grandfathers Group recruits and trains African American men (age 50+) to serve as volunteer “Grandfather” mentors for African American boys, ages 6 – 12, whose fathers are not available to them for support and guidance. Since its inception in 1998, 21 “Grandfather” mentors have worked in creative ways with their “Grandsons” to provide a supportive framework of empowerment, encouragement and esteem-building activities focused on character, education and life skills.
James I. Chatman, a successful African American businessman in Northern Virginia, together with his wife Lavern, envisioned, created and endowed The Grandfathers Group Mentoring Program. Through their grant, a mentoring partnership was initiated with The Campagna Center in Alexandria, Virginia, whose programs strengthen families and create safe havens where children can flourish, through its Retired & Senior Volunteer Program.
After five years of mentoring, boys in the program have demonstrated less confrontational behavior, more confident communication skills and easy affection for their mentors. Several have achieved Honor Roll status. In addition to volunteering more than 1,600 hours, the “Grandfathers” have become enthusiastic spokesmen in the community encouraging other senior men to become mentors.
To increase the impact of The Grandfathers Group in the community and to broaden the mentoring reach of the gentlemen who have so generously given of their time and spirit, The Grandfathers Group introduced, in November 2002, a new team-mentoring focus, the Second Saturday Club. “Grandfather” mentors meet as a group with a larger group of boys once each month to do hands-on projects and activities teaching citizenship, honesty, responsibility, fairness, cooperation, community service and other positive values. In its first six months, the Second Saturday Club has seen exciting results as eleven men have enthusiastically embraced the team approach.
Though they may come from many backgrounds, the men of the Grandfathers Group share the same purpose, to offer their life experiences, their knowledge, instincts and abilities to help rewrite the future for these young boys. These volunteer grandfathers do not see themselves as miracle workers. They have stepped up to the plate not for fame but from the inner urging of their faith and a sincere hope of making a difference. They are an excellent example of the challenge extended to each of us, by the times in which we live, to work together toward lifting up every child to realize their full potential. The impact of this unique program is best expressed in the words of “Grandfather” mentor George Ferguson: “I have volunteered as a Grandfather mentor with The Grandfathers Group at The Campagna Center in Alexandria, VA for the past three years. It has been one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever undertaken. Perhaps the most significant benefit for my 10-year-old mentee is that he knows that there is someone in his life who has the time and interest in listening to what he has to say. The principal benefit to me personally has been the satisfaction of seeing the excitement on his face when I pick him up to take him out and seeing the pride with which he introduces me as his mentor to his friends as we walk together in his neighborhood.”