(KPIX 5) — A move to the Bay Area from another state was an eye-opener for this week’s Jefferson Award winner, Bill Godwin. As the retired business owner got to know his new East Bay community, he saw homelessness, economic disparity and young people struggling with the financial challenges of getting a good college education.
As a result of his observations, Godwin says he was inspired to start a non-profit program that he hopes will help to address all three of these community concerns.
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The idea is simple. The Student Mentor Project (TSMP) pairs University of California, Berkeley college students with Berkeley’s Willard Middle School students for mentorship. In exchange for $6,000 in scholarship money, the college students must commit to three years of weekly mentorship services to the middle-schoolers. In turn, the middle school students receive the weekly mentoring for free.
Godwin says the harsh economic reality of paying for college combined with the growing need for scholarships was a big part of TSMP’s inspiration.
“I tiered the scholarship so the first year is low, the middle year is middle and the third year, their senior year is the bigger amount,” explained Godwin. “So they will stick with it.”
But Godwin says he also wanted to help underserved middle-schoolers in the community by providing them with trusted adults willing to spend time helping them pursue educational and life goals. Program participant and UC Berkeley senior Charlotte Laurence has been meeting with eighth-grader Tierra every week for the past three years. The pair talk about everything from homework to birthday party plans, and along the way have become very good friends.
“I give so much thanks for having Tierra in my life,” said Laurence with a big smile. “She is so funny and she is so wise and every time I come here it is just like a breath of fresh air.”
“We talk about homework, lifestyle,” said Tierra of her mentor. “And about, like, some of the things that I do in school.”
Godwin works with other established mentorship programs like that at Willard to select the students. He works with UC Berkeley to find college students who are also interested in being good role models. TSMPs funding is private and Godwin runs the organization on his own so he is able to return 98% of its donations back into the non-profit. Eventually Godwin says he would like to expand the project and take it nationwide.
“I have had nobody want to walk away,” explained Godwin “Even from the beginning. I think once they meet their mentee and they get involved it becomes important to them. I love seeing what is happened with this program. ”