Bill Russell (center) is flanked by mentors and mentees chosen to throw out the ceremonial pitch at the 2006 game that was MMP’s annual “Mentoring Night at Fenway Park” and also kicked off the Red Sox Mentoring Challenge campaign. From left to right: Ed Warnshuis and his mentee Jose Arache from Lawrence; 11-time NBA champion Bill Russell; Melissa MacDonnell and her mentee Nicole Yokum from Arlington; and mentor Priscilla Furtick and her mentee Tara Bonds from Boston.
Mentoring provides a wealth of benefits to children, including improved grades, self-esteem and prevention of risky behaviors. Yet in Massachusetts alone, nearly 5,000 children are waiting for mentors. In fact, many of those children have been on those lists for six months or more because of a severe shortage of volunteers, according to Mass Mentoring Partnership (MMP), the statewide umbrella agency for youth mentoring in Massachusetts.
“Kids are simply looking for a consistent and caring adult to turn to, yet of more than 100 mentoring programs we work with, virtually all are struggling to find enough volunteers to meet the need,” said David Shapiro, CEO of Mass Mentoring. He added that in order to better match the backgrounds and gender of youth on waiting lists, men and mentors of color (both male and female) are in critical demand.
But despite the high demand and short supply of mentors, one campaign is helping to close the gap: the Red Sox Mentoring Challenge, a statewide volunteer recruitment campaign developed in partnership with the Boston Red Sox.
So far, more than 1,000 people have stepped up to express an interest in becoming a mentor to a child since the Red Sox/Mass Mentoring campaign began in 2006.
Leading the campaign is 11-time NBA champion, Hall-of-Famer and Celtics legend Bill Russell, who is a longtime board member of MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, with which Mass Mentoring is affiliated.
Russell has been actively involved in the Red Sox Mentoring Challenge campaign since its inception and applauds the Red Sox for its commitment to making a difference in the lives of children across Massachusetts.
“It’s been gratifying to see how successful the campaign has been since my initial meeting with Red Sox owners Tom Werner and John Henry several years ago,” said Russell. “The Red Sox have exceeded my expectations with this Mass Mentoring partnership, and their community efforts as a whole have ushered in a whole new era for a franchise that is now a world champion in so many other ways besides baseball.”
Russell has been committed to advancing the field of youth mentoring for nearly 20 years, and shares his passion and inspiration with others whenever he can.
As part of his role in the Red Sox Mentoring Challenge, he has made numerous trips to Fenway Park from his home in Seattle to talk to mentors and mentees, and encourage other adults to become mentors.
“Every act of kindness is an act of strength, and becoming a mentor is one of the best things you can do to help a child become stronger,” said Russell. This sentiment has special meaning for Russell, who noted, “There were a lot of people in my young life who often equated kindness with weakness. In the end, that view kept them from achieving great things in life. Thankfully, there were others — namely my high school basketball coach — who took me in and mentored me. He literally changed my life.”
Said Red Sox President and Chief Executive Office Larry Lucchino; “To join with a man of Bill Russell’s commitment, accomplishments and character is an honor for the Red Sox, and we hope our fans and members of the community at large will answer the call to become mentors for kids.”