Giving young people someone to look up to

CAMDEN — Former gang members Hualdo and Nando Mendoza stood at the podium. Nando spoke of seeing “nothing but a wall” growing up, a wall that he couldn’t breach.

That changed with the help of Stephen Goldenbaum, the businessman who stood with them in Cathedral Hall at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception here on Sept 19.

The occasion was a luncheon sponsored by the Camden County Mentoring Institute. An estimated 200 Camden clergy, community leaders, law enforcement officials, and local residents, all invested in Camden’s youth, attended.

The Camden County Mentoring Institute is a coalition of mentoring providers, faith-based groups, and government institutions, coming together to recruit and support volunteer mentors.

The Mendoza brothers credited their mentor, Goldenbaum, with changing their lives. “John was the first man I looked up to,” Hualdo told the crowd.

Born in Mexico, the two brothers immigrated to California with their families in the 1980s and quickly became involved in a local gang. They got in trouble with the law, and Hualdo was expelled from school.

In 2006, Goldenbaum took Hualdo and Nando under his wing, teaching the two not only the skills necessary to restore antique and classic aircraft, but the importance of taking responsibility for their actions and following his instructions.

The brothers “only needed a chance, for somebody to treat them like men, and hold them accountable, and reward them for their successes,” he said.

The Mendoza brothers formed their own company, West Side Aviation, to restore aircrafts, and today Nando is an independent contractor. Hualdo works for Goldenbaum as a technical advisor and troubleshooter. Both men have their FAA private pilot’s license. As well, both regularly help out in local youth education programs.

Also speaking were Camden Mayor Dana Redd; New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa; Camden Chief of Police John Scott Thomson; Msgr. Michael Mannion, director of Community Relations for the Diocese of Camden; and Rev. W. Wilson Goode, former Mayor of Philadelphia.

The Institute claims that youth with mentors are 46 percent less likely to use drugs, 52 percent less likely to be truant, and have improved relationships with family and peers.

“Today is a day to help spread the word about the benefits of mentoring,” said Police Chief Thomson, especially in the city of Camden where, he added, 31 percent of the population is under 18, and 68 percent of households are single-parent.

“Kids today are going through a lot of darkness, loneliness,” said Msgr. Mannion. “In a place like Camden, a mentor can literally mean the difference between life and death for these youth,” he said.

Some requirements of prospective mentors are that they are at least 19 years of age; have access to an automobile; and a clean criminal history. Mentors are expected to make a one-year commitment, with a minimum of four hours per month visiting one-on-one with the mentee. For information, contact the Center For Family Services Mentoring Department at 856-964-1990, ext. 180, or visit www.CFSmentoring.org

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