Sarah Loffman

Planting seeds for lifelong growth seeds for lifelong growth

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

It’s back to school season and parents from all walks of life want their children to have everything they need to succeed. For students who may struggle with social or behavioral issues, mentors can be a critical support for achieving positive lifelong outcomes.

The story below about Noah and Ned shows that mentors’ lives can be profoundly enriched by these relationships as well. Catholic Charities matches volunteer mentors with young people in Lake County and runs school-based mentoring groups at five middle schools in the Back of the Yards community on the South Side of Chicago.

We work closely with social workers at partner schools to identify students who show potential to benefit from a mentor. Before matching with a student, mentors are trained to understand how poverty, community violence and trauma can affect children. They learn strategies to develop supportive and trusting relationships with young people, understand their role, set appropriate boundaries and prioritize consistency.

To learn more about our youth empowerment programs, visit

In fifth grade, Noah’s grandfather passed away. His mother knew he needed a positive male role model, someone who could guide him and teach him things she could not.

Retired after a career as an international photographer and videographer, Ned had newfound time on his hands. After an initial foray into short-term volunteering, he realized he wanted more tangible connections and an avenue to make deep impact.

Intrigued by Catholic Charities Youth Mentorship program in Lake County, he appreciated the program’s thorough training, certification, insurance and the care Catholic Charities takes matching students with mentors.

“I raised a son and know how hard it can be to parent,” Ned recalls. “I wanted to be a resource. I was raised with a restricted worldview, but my career took me all over the world. I wanted to share my knowledge with a young person who would enjoy and benefit from this.”

After getting to know one another, Ned and Noah began to meet on Saturdays. Ned taught Noah fishing, speedboating, chess and archery. They played golf, took art lessons and visited museums. Noah even gained behind-the-scenes entry to see the filming of a Chicago TV show.

Using currencies from across the globe as a teaching tool, Ned imparted the importance of saving and investing as a means of building wealth. Reflecting on his relationship with Noah, Ned says, “My life had been fast paced. Sitting next to a 12-year-old helped me shift gears, slow down and recognize I was witnessing a young person learning and growing.”

Now a high school freshman already focused on college, with Ned’s guidance, Noah has enrolled in a robotics class and is bolstering his volunteer work. Noah’s mother LaToya is grateful for these experiences, which she couldn’t readily provide for her son. But even more important, she appreciates Ned’s consistent and reassuring presence, plus his wisdom and advice for both Noah and her, even through tough times.

“I’ve always been a firm believer in the capacity to love,” LaToya explains. “Ned is a reaffirmation of that. He shows up for Noah with no expectations except to share and impart wisdom and to be part of his life. I can’t imagine my son in better hands.”

Arranda Gardner, Catholic Charities’ Youth Mentor Program manager, explains that early adolescence is a critical period in child development.

“Early adolescence is pivotal for children — it’s when they are making decisions about both positive and risky behaviors and engaging or disconnecting from school. Our goal is to find mentor partners who help youth build confidence, guide them in recognizing their own unique potential, exploring all that’s possible.”

When mentors engage one-to-one with youth for at least a year, the results are impressive. Students and mentors learn from one another, grow and cherish their relationships with one another.

In LaToya’s words, “I think every parent should be open to this mentorship opportunity. Ned has planted so many seeds for growth within my son — some have shown themselves already, other things I know will matter will emerge later. He’s giving him tools to navigate his life.”




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