Toriano Holloway did not expect to have "Dr." in front of his name when he was young.
Holloway, now known as assistant superintendent with the Starkville School District, said he, like many students, was held back not by what he thought he was, but by what he thought he was not. A volunteer mentor changed the course of his life, he said, so he knows from first-hand experience how important mentoring can be.
"You can look at me, and I'm supposed to be a statistic ... an African-American male (from) a single-parent (family)," Holloway said. "Luckily, someone took enough interest in me to make me what I am today. There are no self-made men."
Holloway was one of several local leaders participating in the Bulldog Mentors in Training Program Thursday at Mississippi State University's South Hall, training prospective student mentors and educating them about children's needs.
The SSD, the Boys and Girls Club, Sally Kate Winters Family Services, the T.K. Martin Center, the Maroon Volunteer Center, Volunteer Starkville and Mentor Me MSU all partnered for the program, and 50 students signed up. Lacy Jaudon, an MSU graduate student with Americorps' Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program, said every VISTA aims to increase access to mentoring programs and improve those programs as part of their assignment. VISTAs work to alleviate poverty, she said, and the educational boost of mentoring serves that purpose.
Jaudon said she and fellow VISTA Stedmond Ware developed Bulldog Mentors in Training to fill a need for mentor training. Some mentoring organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club and Sally Kate Winters, provide their own training, she said, but many organizations do not, particularly school districts where multiple age groups are mentored.
"It's kind of like a catch-all to see if people are interested," Jaudon said. "Some people are scared of tutoring because they feel they're not good at math or English, but it can also be character-building. (The guests are) experts in this field, because they've (worked with) mentors and tutors and worked for years in education and counseling. They're ... here to answer questions and talk about different topics ... especially (for) young college students, 18-20-year-olds who have never been in mentoring positions before."
The evening ended with a volunteer interest forum to let students speak with each of the mentoring organizations represented, Jaudon said, with the goal of matching student mentors to programs. Once students begin mentoring in earnest, she said, she will monitor the students' success.
"(I will be) sending them weekly or biweekly mentoring tips and asking them to do reflections to make sure their mentorships (are) going well, to make sure this session was actually effective," Jaudon said. "If so, we're going to keep doing it once or twice a semester."
Holloway said every child needs an adult in their lives who is consistently committed to his or her guidance, support and well-being, and children don't always find that adult in their families or schools.
In fact, he said, young adults can be more effective in this role than others, depending on the child's personality and circumstances.
"Who will a kid listen to before they listen to Dr. Holloway? I'm a square," Holloway said. "You have more influence on them than I can, than some of their parents do. Every one of you has a responsibility to help someone, because someone is helping you."
Hannah Hathorn, Miss Tupelo 2013 and founder of Mentor Me MSU, said it is also important for mentors to relate to children on a personal level. One child she mentored was having trouble with math and began to cry during one of his study sessions with her, she said, and what she initially thought was frustration with math turned out to actually be frustration with other facets of his life, like wanting to see his grandfather more often or having to take more baths than he wanted to. Once he had finished crying and talking about his issues, she said, he did his math homework with no problems.
"He couldn't concentrate because he had all this other stuff going on in his mind, because of what's going on at home," Hathorn said. "A mentor is a person that sits down and listens to a child ... because they let it all out to us. The other thing is to open yourself up, because you might learn something too."