01/15/07 — Senior citizens share experience, time with children as new mentors

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Senior citizens share experience, time with children as new mentors

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 15, 2007 1:50 PM

James Mozingo drove a long distance truck for 47 years, but says that spending time with children and understanding them is a whole different ballgame.

While he has a grown son of his own, for the past two years he and his wife, Dollie, have been mentors to two youths, ages 10 and 11, who are also first cousins.

"After we were matched with them, we met the grandparents they live with and got acquainted," Mrs. Mozingo said. "We got more involved, and they began to feel like our own children.

"We saw where we could help them. It may not be much, but we could help them."

The couple say they enjoy spending time with their charges, reading, teaching them Bible verses, letting the children read to them or help them cook a meal. They also keep a check on the children's school activities and get a monthly report from their teachers and grandparents.

Mrs. Mozingo has a vested interest in their education, she said. She was a teacher for 34 years, 31 of them in Claxton, Ga., before Mozingo's truck route caused them to cross paths and following their marriage, she moved closer to her roots in Pikeville. She taught at Goldsboro High School for three years before retiring in 2000.

"I've always been concerned about young people," she said.

That concern is evident in the children they work with, said Shawan Woodard of Smart Choices for Youth Inc., the program that matches adult mentors with youths.

"I have seen a difference in the children's self-esteem. They were real stand-offish at first," she said.

For Mozingo, the biggest blessing is to see the children get out of the house and see the possibilities available to them. Some never get the opportunity, he said, sometimes because they don't have the transportation or their parents are incarcerated and unable to care for them.

"We enjoy taking them out to eat. They just enjoy it, seem like they just want to go running and jumping, enjoying themselves," he said.

"We also take them to church when we can," his wife added.

Mary Anne Gibbs is also a former educator, retired in 1996. After 21 years of teaching, she said she felt the call to enter full-time ministry. Three years ago, she became a mentor, thinking it would be good for her.

"I wanted to hook up and connect with something good in the community," she said. "I wanted to be able to give back to some young child. When I was growing up, they had that. It wasn't called mentoring, though. It was youth leaders."

Her own father died when Ms. Gibbs was 12, so when she was matched with a little girl who lost her father, she could identify. The opportunity opened the door for her to step in and give comfort.

"I felt that connection, felt I could help her in how to cope with that," she said.

Even though Ms. Gibbs has two grown children, she said she has always felt a connection with young people.

"I feel young at heart when I'm dealing with young people. The little girl I have now, she keeps me on my toes -- active, energetic. We go to the park. She had the audacity to ask me to get on the monkey bars," she laughed. "We have fun like that."

She said she was moved to tears recently after receiving a card thanking her for time spent with the child.

"Time is a precious gift. She said, 'I know you don't have to spend time with me and you don't have to listen to my problems. But this card is to thank you for spending time with me, listening to me,'" Ms. Gibbs said. "I rushed to the phone and called her."

Mrs. Woodard said there are as many different heartwarming stories as there are people. Having retirees give back by volunteering is not only appreciated, she said, but beneficial to those the mentoring program serves.

With a generation of children who have very young parents, they don't have access to some of the wisdom acquired by the senior citizens, she said.

Like one single mother of three children, two of whom are being mentored by Linda Parks and Carol Surtrain.

"I know when I was coming up, I did not get a break (raising children) so try to give a break to this mom," Ms. Parks said.

She has been a mentor to a 6-year-old since July and has five children of her own. Her husband passed away in 2000 and she kept saying to herself, "I have to do something," she recalled.

"I told my granddaughter, 'I'm going to get me a little girl,'" she said. In July, when a friend told her about the program, she figured that might be her answer.

"I was interested because I love children. I come from a family of 10, so I have always been around children," she said.

She said she takes her child to church, spends weekends with her sometimes, and the two read and play games. They also enjoy going to the park, baking cookies and shopping, she added.

Ms. Surtain and Ms. Parks already knew one another when they each became mentors, and now are responsible for two siblings from the same family.

"I have grandchildren about the same age. One grandchild is Isaiah's age, almost 8," Ms. Surtain said.

The women are talking about taking the two children to the zoo together, and Ms. Surtain says he also likes to cook spaghetti, make Jell-o and go on walks. But she also emphasizes reading and looks for teachable moments.

"We do a lot of 'eye shopping," she said. "I give him a dollar, he has a choice on how to spend it."

Ms. Surtain says she is grateful to have learned about the program, introduced when founder Daryl Woodard visited her church.

For more information on the mentoring programs, call 735-0008.