Gary Cotton is a Racine resident, born and raised here. He attended Park High School, and he then went on to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he earned degrees in organizational and interpersonal communications, and radio and television broadcasting. After graduation Gary returned to Racine to begin his career in community service in 1989. Currently Gary is the Human Resource Director for the Racine/Kenosha Community Action Agency, Inc., and he also works at OIC (Opportunities Industrial Center). In addition, he is a an assistant basketball coach at Park High School, a position he has held for 22 years, where he has had the opportunity to positively influence the lives of many young men.
You would think that this busy guy has no spare time, but Gary sees a need in Racine beyond his involvement in his jobs and as a basketball coach. He states that "sixteen and seventeen year olds' values and morals are pretty much set, and it is almost too late to change kids at that age." He believes in prevention as opposed to intervention-involvement with kids in the middle schools to help prevent some of the at-risk behaviors that, if not confronted, lead to intervention by authorities to control those behaviors. Gary prefers to help students learn to cope with their issues rather than see them involved with the justice system. "We can either help kids now or pay for them later," he says. In addition, Gary's boss embraces the concept of mentoring youth and supports Gary's efforts. The mentoring doesn't take that much time-about an hour a week at his mentee's school.
When Gary first agreed to become a mentor, he was a little nervous. He didn't know much about his mentee, wasn't sure how the boy would react to him, or if the two of them would "click." In spite of his reservations Gary accepted the challenge. This is his community, and he felt a responsibility to help, a value he developed because "that is how he was raised." As the relationship has developed, the trust has grown between Gary and his mentee. In addition, because he has made the effort to also engage the parent, he has gained her trust and support as well.
Gary's mentee is an African-American male who, surprisingly, did not have an African-American role model in his life. The mentor relationship with Gary has provided the young man with that positive role model "who looks like him," someone who is willing to listen to him, someone who cares about his well-being, someone whom he can depend on being there. The mentee is excited to share his triumphs and problems with Gary. The trust that Gary is building goes a long way to developing respect and responsibility in his mentee, skills that he will need in his future.
What Gary gains from the relationship, besides a friend, is an opportunity to provide leadership. Gary sees his mentee's growth in trust, respect, and development of social skills. Gary recognizes the need to work with youth, and he is personally gratified by the progress he has seen in his mentee. He knows that he is having a positive effect in the lives of his mentee and his family, and it feels good!
Gary had a recent session with his mentee where a few other boys were "eyeing" the two of them, curious about what was going on. Gary heard them asking his mentee about who Gary was-his daddy, or what, what they did in session, what he had on the paper Gary and he had worked on? "A contract," the mentee answered, "to improve some of my behaviors so I can understand consequences." The other boys were impressed, and asked if they could get a mentor. This shows the ripple effect of quality mentoring-how it can influence positive behaviors, change lives, and make a difference in a community.
Gary is "glad to be a part of Mentor Kenosha & Racine and will continue" with mentoring. Gary provides the leadership, positive modeling, and social concern that are needed by so many young people, and Mentor Kenosha & Racine honors his commitment to his community.
Think back over your own life to a person, or more than one person who has had a positive impact on your life. Consider how that person helped you become who you are today-influenced you to be a better person than you thought you could be, encouraged you to work hard or try something new. You can do the same for someone else. You can pay it forward. You can get involved in this effort to improve our community. Go to http://www.uwp.edu/departments/community.partnerships/mentorkr/ and click on "Be a Mentor." It will change the life of a child and will enrich your own. Invest in the Future; Mentor a Child.
Are you a mentor? Do you know someone who is a mentor? Tell us the story and we will feature it in our newsletter! Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.