JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — They often respond to the same scenes and face challenges every day. Now there's a new challenge for the the hundreds of firefighters and police officers in Jacksonville. It's a friendly rivalry, if you will, to see which department can get more employees to mentor with the non-profit, Take Stock in Children.
Jacksonville City Council President Scott Wilson knows how important mentors can be in a child's life.
"I had a really tough lifestyle growing up," Wilson said. "I realized that if I had someone who helped guide me when I was a child I probably would made better decisions. I probably would have stayed in school, maybe I would have gone to college."
Fraternal Order of Police President Steve Zona also knows the importance of of having mentors and what can happen where someone doesn't have one.
"On a daily basis we see the devastation in the community, and we see what happens to kids that don't have adults as role models," Zona said.
Wilson and Zona have joined forces to encourage police officers and firefighters to sign up to be mentors with Take Stock in Children so they can help guide low-income students on a path to success.
"The sheriff and the police chief have both committed to give them time during the week, up to an hour week workload permitting, to be a mentor in this program," Zona said.
Take Stock in Children pairs students with volunteer mentors who meet with them for one hour a week at school during the academic year. In addition to being matched with a mentor they also get matched with a college success coach and get a two year college or vocational school scholarship. The students have to maintain a 2.0 GPA, have good behavior in school and remain drug and crime free.
"It's very rewarding for us as a policeman. I believe I get as much out of this program as that young 15-year-old does," Lt. Dan Shelton said.
He started mentoring at First Coast High school this year.
"Each time we meet, the curtain comes down a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more. My mission is to ensure that everything that he wants to do that he's successful," Shelton said. "I've had some good and bad things happen to me and what I hope is to impart that knowledge to that young man who's 15-years-old and maybe I can save him from stumbling once or twice, and he can avoid that and move on and get to college."
"If you can help just one student at a time, it will help," Officer Carlos Sosa, who also mentors, said.
Helping by breaking down barriers, building relationships with youth in the community and giving them hope.
"That's what we hope it does, a two-fold thing to break down those walls and to help those kids succeed in life," Zona said.
The high school graduation rate for Take Stock students is more than 60% higher than their at-risk peers. If you would like to volunteer to mentor you can apply by clicking here.