Program offers children moral support, guidance

In today’s world oftentimes both parents in a family must work to make ends meet. Children sometimes lack the nurturing guidance needed to excel in life.

Learning for Life is a nonprofit educational program that seeks to give children direction and nurturing support needed to succeed in life.

Elizabeth Shewfelt, a student at USF working for Learning for Life, said the goal of the program is to help young students both morally and in their school work.

“We want to help students academically and help them achieve,” she said. “The program is there to support the children.”

Shewfelt said the program targets students in kindergarten through the 12th grade.

Learning for Life works closely with educators she said.

“We look for what the teachers need,” she said. “(The program) is currently being reorganized to better fit the needs of the school.”

Learning for Life operates in three stages, Shewfelt said. For younger students in kindergarten through the 6th grade, the program provides mentors to the students. These mentors give the students a person to look up to, she said.

For students in middle school and junior high, Learning for Life emphasizes moving from school goals towards career goals. At the high school level, the program provides speakers from various job fields who talk to the students and show them how they can get into a profession they like. It seeks to help direct students towards their futures, Shewfelt said.

Shewfelt said Learning for Life is currently looking for college students to mentor younger students. This is an important role for someone looking to instill good moral and academic standards in a young person, she said.

“(Students) need someone to look up to, they need role models,” she said. “It affects everyone, this is the future.”

Faith Whidden-Calvin, Program Coordinator for Learning for Life, said the idea behind the program is to teach students values they might otherwise be lacking.

“Our goal is to instill core values to youth to prepare them for ethical decisions throughout life,” she said. “We give them something to strive for.”

Whidden-Calvin said the program is designed to go hand-in-hand with the daily lessons learned in school. The program also seeks to teach students peer mediation, which shows students how to act with their peers even in a situation when they might be angry, she said.

“They have to learn to control their anger,” she said. “(Learn to) think first before acting out.”

Whidden-Calvin said the program has proven results. She said students involved in the program have a 52 percent less chance of skipping classes and a 40 percent less chance of using drugs. She said mentors are directly responsible for such success.

“When you have a caring adult it builds self-esteem,” she said. “We are asking our mentors to be role models.”

Mentors are asked to volunteer a small amount of their time every week.

Whidden-Calvin said this volunteer work may be signed off as community service because the program is not for profit.

Learning for Life works with the public school system, and funding for the program reflects this relationship. Whidden-Calvin said funding comes from three main sources: the Department of Education, private grants, and the Boy Scouts of America.

Learning for Life is currently in its 10th year. It developed from a program first started by the Boy Scouts.

Whidden-Calvin said Learning for Life currently operates in 20,000 schools nationwide and serves 1.4 million children. In the Tampa area, the program operates in 50 schools and serves 11,200 children.

It is also currently being funded for two additional schools, which will further push the program into the community, Whidden-Calvin said.

Learning for Life is also used as part of an initiative put into place by Governor Jeb Bush to teach character education to children, Whidden-Calvin said.

While mentors are currently the main concern, the program is also looking for speakers from various career fields. These speakers may be professionals or graduate level students.

Shewfelt said working for Learning for Life is a rewarding experience since it allows a person to affect a child for the better.

“Anything that can bring a smile to a kid’s face is enough,” she said. “All a kid really wants is to know someone cares about them.”

Shewfelt said teachers in the Tampa area are able to use the program as a tool to further their teaching. This helps the teachers meet the requirements that are provided in Governor Bush’s initiative. It also allows important community involvement in the life of the students, she said.

“(The goal) is to draw community into the life of the students,” she said. “It affects everyone, this is the future.”