Sunday, April 1, 2007


Have you ever heard Graig Meyer talk about the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate (BRMA) program? If you haven’t, you’ve missed something special. If you have, then you know that this Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the College of Wooster and trained social worker is passionate, dedicated, and enthusiastic. This is just the kind of speaker you want, one who resolutely believes in this program.

Having been the coordinator of BRMA since August of 1998, Meyer knows the ends and outs of getting a program to run and the trials of keeping it running. When he speaks, it’s also extremely clear that he also knows the joys that come from seeing the program make a real difference in the lives of all of the participants.

What is the program all about? BRMA primarily takes black and Latino students beginning in the fourth grade and matches them with mentors to help the students grow both in the classroom and in life. The formal mission statement reads, “To establish supportive relationships between adults and children to broaden children’s visions of their future; consequently helping them reach their fullest academic, physical, emotional, and social potential.” The first participants graduated from our high schools in 2003.

To accomplish this formidable task, there are several components of the program that all come together to achieve success. First, there is the mentoring component where a mentor-advocate from the community is matched with a student. Many mentors establish a long-term relationship with the student and help to broaden the student’s world-view over a number of years.

As advocates mentors and parents work in harmony to advocate for students in both the school and the community to harness, develop and use the various resources that support student success. One program resource is weeknight tutoring led by UNC students. Meyer indicates that the students in the program and from UNC form a unique bond, reinforcing academic success and interest in college.

To build on such interest, the program sponsors college tours, workshops, and much needed assistance to students as they work their way through the application and financial aid maze. Mentors are able to share their personal insights and experiences and that also helps to demystify what for most is a daunting process.

To accomplish the social development component, the BRMA program, provides for group social activities, summer camp opportunities, and funds for scholarships to participate in activities such as music or art lessons or athletic team. There are also opportunities to take advantage of the many cultural resources in our community.

The Blue Ribbon Youth Leadership Institute is the vehicle for developing leadership skills during the summer and their year round service club. These opportunities for leadership development are available to students who are not participating in the mentor component of the program. The result, of course, is a rich leadership laboratory experience where practice in service learning opportunities helps to reinforce leadership skills.

If all that the program is doing wasn’t ambitious enough, there are two other things that are important to mention. Developed in cooperation with the North Carolina Council on Economic Education and the Carolina Pros, former letter winners from UNC, a “Show Me the Money!” class provides some other needed skills. Participants interact with professionals from the business, finance and technology sectors get to manage the financial portfolio of real-world professional athletes. To test their skills, there is a statewide competition against other “managers.”

Lastly, fifteen students in the Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) have been selected based on their commitment to servant-leadership to participate in a service-learning trip to Ghana, West Africa this summer. This “International Service-Learning Trip” is an amazing journey for cultural learning and service to others. In the past, YLI service projects during the school year and summer camp experiences blended nicely with the opportunity to participate in spring break trips to help others. But a trip to Ghana? What an amazing opportunity for personal growth and cultural enrichment.

Obviously, none of this could happen if the program didn’t receive generous support of foundations and local citizens. The total cost per student for the trip to Ghana will be approximately $3550. To demonstrate a significant commitment students and their families are being asked to contribute $1000 towards the cost. The BRMA program will raise the additional $2550 for each student through grants, sponsorships, and donations from our community.

Some can help this great program with a generous donation. Others can help by volunteering their time and talent to help some young people build the foundation for success in life. Go to the program’s web page to see how you can volunteer, make a donation, or do both. Remember the stated mission of the program? We all do things that affect a child’s vision of their future. Doing positive things is a good thing!

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