Fort Bend

Fort Bend mentorship program provides role models for youth in justice system

The program has grown from three mentors in 2012 to about 40 active mentors, but organizers say they are still looking to recruit more male volunteers.

Benny Simonton and Leah Williams of the Fort Bend Juvenile Probation Department- Special Programs unit pose for a portrait.
Courtesy of Benny Simonton
Benny Simonton and Leah Williams of the Fort Bend Juvenile Probation Department- Special Programs unit pose for a portrait.

The Fort Bend Juvenile Probation Department's Special Programs unit has been partnering youth with positive role models.

Lead Mentor Coordinator Benny Simonton said some of the volunteers come from a similar background as the young people themselves.

"It's a huge impact on the kids because the kids get a chance to be mentored by adults who've been through similar situations," he said.

While the program works with youth regardless of gender, many of the participants are boys being raised by single mothers. The program — which pairs kids with mentors of the same gender — is currently in need of more male volunteers in particular, organizers said.

Simonton said having positive male role models can make an impact in the boys' lives.

"It really gives the youth a male side of thinking, a male side of just how life is," he said.

The programs as they exist today started with just three mentors in 2012. Now, the program has around 40 active mentors. Simonton said he's been going to high-traffic areas, like restaurants, gyms and even car washes, to try to recruit from the community. The program also has a website and the mentors themselves sometimes recruit as well.

"They go out and they spread the word also about the importance of mentoring," Simonton said. "So we have a variety of ways in which we go about getting mentors."

Mentors can choose to work with either young people on probation or those in the juvenile detention center. Youths on probation meet with their mentors twice a month. Meanwhile, mentors who volunteer in the detention center visit the youth once a week.

"It's a pleasure working with the juveniles," Simonton said. "This is our future – this is what it's all about."