Anyone who has visited my office has seen my “wall of inspiration.” That’s what it says on the wall above seven photos of people who’ve had the most impact on my life.
They include my wife, retired Everett Police Chief Jim Scharf, my beloved grandmother who raised me in rural Louisiana, and Will Bachofner, former chief of the Washington State Patrol and the man who hired me there.
And then there’s one of a wizened man with a kind smile on his face. No one who tries to guess who he is ever gets it quite right. I don’t expect them to, and neither would he.
Mr. Leroy Wafer was my basketball coach at Allen High School in the late 1960s, as well as the school custodian, bus driver, and a tutor. He was the one who taught the students that personal appearance and preparedness mattered, not to let the spirit-crushing setbacks discourage us, how to prepare for job interviews, and to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
And he was the one who told me flat out one day that I would never be a college or professional basketball star so I had better stay in school and get the best education I possibly could. At first I couldn’t believe what he was saying. But he was right. It didn’t take me long to realize that Mr. Wafer’s shot of reality was based upon truly wanting me to succeed in life.
You see, Mr. Wafer was my mentor. I never knew my father, and my grandfather died when I was a young boy. I honestly do not know where I’d be today were it not for Mr. Wafer and the valuable time he invested in my life and the lives of many of my friends.
I still keep in touch with my high school classmates. But these days my focus is on my adopted home, Snohomish County. And I can’t help but wonder sometimes: Do we have enough Leroy Wafers?
Every child in Snohomish County needs a mentor, from the at-risk teen to the stand-out student. Many people in our county do reach out to children and teens in so many ways every day, and I applaud them. But we cannot keep drawing from the same well when it comes to nurturing our children. It takes our entire community — people from all corners of the county: parents, educators, our churches, neighbors, coaches, and so many more — to make sure it’s done right.
Mentoring means different things to people, but I think most of us can agree that it is based on a safe and healthy relationship and involves a level of commitment in a person’s life. It is so much more than merely being a role model and it is not always easy.
When I think of mentoring done well, I think of Big Brothers Big Sisters. I’ve been involved with this organization locally and know others who are “Bigs” right now. The statistics prove the international organization’s program works. Sixty-seven percent of former “Littles” say their “Big” influenced their decisions to go to college. And more than 80 percent of “Littles” say their “Big” taught them the importance of helping others.
At the Sheriff’s Office we work on impacting youth through the partnerships we build with various community organizations. I’m thinking specifically of the Gang Community Response Team (G-CRT) partnership established a few years ago with the goal of eliminating gang activity in our county through prevention, intervention and suppression efforts.
I’ve already mentioned one of our partners: Big Brother Big Sisters of Snohomish County. They provide the most effective evidence-based “best practice” mentoring program for matching kids with a caring adult. Not all of their “Littles” are high-risk kids, but all of them need some extra support to help them thrive and grow into strong, healthy adults.
Cocoon House is another partner. This nonprofit supports youth in so many ways, including shelter for homeless youth, a drop-in center in north Everett, case management to help arrange services such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, and family support for parents who need advice and assistance with their teens.
Familias Unidas is another G-CRT member with whom we’re proud to partner. They provide a wide array of services to strengthen youth and families in a family support center, including parenting classes, information and referral, play groups for small children and youth groups for older ones, and even a financial workshop for young people age 12 to 20.
These are just a few of the organizations at work locally and regionally. Alone, they do amazing things to help youth and families. Together, they provide not only a safety net for our community, but a thriving culture centered on healthy relationships.
Mentoring is not new. It’s not the catchphrase of the day. It does not belong to a political party or ideology. It is not a crime prevention strategy. (Although it does make a difference!) It does not absolve parents of their responsibility to raise their children.
It is common sense and genuine caring. It is a sign of a strong, vibrant community. It is an opportunity that cannot afford to be left to “someone else” to fulfill.
You will never regret a decision to mentor a child. You may or may not see the results of your investment, but you can be sure you will have made a tangible difference in that child’s life. I’ve listed a few organizations, but I’ll bet you’ve thought of so many more while reading this. I don’t even need to know which ones you’re thinking about to say they desperately need donations and volunteers.
We can never have enough Leroy Wafers in our community. After all, one day soon today’s children will be all grown up and maybe a few of them will have their own “wall of inspiration.” Will you be on it?
About the author
John Lovick, a former state legislator from Mill Creek, is serving his second four-year term as the Snohomish County sheriff.
For more information about how you can fight crime by investing in kids, contact the Office of Community Partnerships at the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office (firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-388-5264).
Tell the Sheriff’s Office your favorite mentor story. Keep it to 300 words or less. We’ll select a few and post them on our Facebook page and website.
To learn more about the local organizations mentioned in this article, visit the following links: