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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 13, 2005

You don’t have to be Athena to assume the form of Mentor

"When he’d sailed off in his ship, Odysseus had made Mentor steward of his household, charging them to follow what the old man ordered, and telling Mentor to keep all property secure."

— Homer, the Odyssey, translated by Ian Johnston

Probably the best-known journey in the Western world is that of Odysseus, the king of Ithaca. The Odyssey, Homer’s classic epic — containing centuries of oral tradition — tells in 24 books of the many adventures and hardships faced by Odysseus as he traveled home from the Trojan War.

Indeed, our word "odyssey" comes from that poem; it means a journey or a quest. Most of us, in our lifetimes, have embarked on an odyssey. Figuratively or literally, we’ve left home and the place where we are secure to journey forth into the world.

What we need, if we are to succeed, is a trusted friend and advisor like Odysseus had. His companion was Mentor. When Odysseus left for Troy, he gave charge of his house to Mentor. He trusted him implicitly. In Mentor’s shape, the goddess Athena helped Odysseus’s son, Telemachus. Mentor became the guardian and teacher of Telemachus.

Today, many of us can assume the form of Mentor; we don’t have to be gods or goddesses.

We remember with great fondness and warmth a professor who served as our mentor, helping us in our first days of teaching undergraduates and tirelessly offering the critical comments needed to make a scholarly paper worthy of publication.

We’ve been thinking about mentors since Kevin Brown stopped by our news office last week. An energetic young man, Brown is working with Families Together in Albany County to set up a mentoring program in the Hilltowns. It’s part of an ambitious plan — funded over six years by a $9.4 million federal grant — to set up three resource centers in Albany County.

The plan is to bring coordinated mental-health services to Berne, a rural area; Colonie, a suburban area; and Albany, an urban area. "This will form a network of community resources for children and youth with emotional and mental-health concerns," said Moira Manning, project director. "In Albany County, children are being put out of their homes and into psychiatric facilities...We want to see parents driving the treatment and improve the whole family functioning."

The concept is a good one. Earlier this year, we spoke with Glenn Liebman, the chief executive officer for the Mental Health Association in New York State, who said the stigma that comes with mental illness makes people who need it eschew treatment. "Only one out of two people with a serious mental illness...will enter the mental health system," he said.

The most recent statistics, he said, show that one out of five people will suffer some form of mental illness in their lives. That means that mental illness will probably affect each of us or someone we love at some time.

Especially in rural areas, like the Hilltowns, mental-health services are hard to come by.

"When there are emotional, behavior, or developmental needs, the family tends to withdraw and not know where to go for help," said Linda Stewart, the co-project director and family coordinator. "There’s no place for parents to go that is warm and welcoming, where you can ask questions, right in your neighborhood...This will give parents a place that meets their culture and their needs."

We applaud such an effort and hope it is welcomed in the Hilltowns. It makes sense to gear a program towards youth — to catch problems before they get too large to solve. And it is commendable to empower parents so they are respected as the experts with their own children.

While the resource center isn’t slated to open in East Berne until later this fall, Brown is busy now recruiting mentors. Most of us who have embarked on the odyssey that is parenting have wished from time to time that we had a mentor for our child — someone our child could rely on and learn from.

The goal of the Across the Ages Mentoring Program, Brown says, is to enable children to succeed in school, to feel better about themselves, to help others, and to resist taking drugs.

"The success of our program, and more importantly, its ability to improve services for the youth of the Hilltowns, will be dependent upon strong members," said Brown. "The Hilltowns senior citizens’ expertise and life experiences are key components."

Hilltown residents who are 55 or older will be paired with youths ranging in age from nine to 15. The pairs can do school work together, participate in community service projects, or just do something fun together, said Brown.

He’s asking people interested in being mentors to call him at 432-0333, ext. 24. We hope some of our readers will volunteer. We’ve long been impressed with the willingness of Hilltowners to help their neighbors. And we know many old-timers with a wealth of life experiences to share.

What we’ve learned in mentoring others is that the satisfaction of giving is greater than receiving. The excitement that comes from working with young people can be contagious. And bonds that are formed can sustain us for a lifetime.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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