04/25/04 — WARM Hearts mentor program

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WARM Hearts mentor program

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 25, 2004 2:07 AM

When Airman 1st Class Tiffany Linares joined the Air Force nearly two years ago, she left behind more than just her family in Sacramento, Calif. She also gave up outings to the park with eight nieces and nephews.

She wanted to be around younger children again, so she began seeking out activities in the community. One idea mentioned was the WARM Hearts mentor program at the Goldsboro Family YMCA.

In August, she was matched with 9-year-old Kristina Knotts, a fourth-grader at Meadow Lane Elementary School.

Kristina's expectation was pretty simple: She thought it would be fun to go to movies and to go swimming.

They have not done those things yet, but have gone skating and bowling, to the library, and out to eat. They talk on the phone often and get together once a week.

Kristina lives in Dudley with her mother and 4-year-old brother. She looks up to Ms. Linares but says she is also a friend.

"I don't really have many friends," she said. "I only have three friends. She is like my fourth."

Ms. Linares said she didn't know what to expect when she started the program, but knew she wanted to pass along what she had received from her own family.

"If you mold it into a kid when they're younger," she said, "they'll live with it forever."

She said she thought her role would be more parental, but it hasn't been like that at all. At 22, she is more like a big sister.

"I think she teaches me a lot more than I teach her," she said. "It actually makes me feel good to know that I help her out, and hopefully in the long run, years from now she'll remember this."

There are times when scheduling is a problem. Lately, Ms. Linares has been going through training and tests on her job and sometimes can't get away to spend time with Kristina. But she says she has made a commitment and will honor it.

"It's a big thing for me," she said. "You can't back out of something. I don't think that's right."

She said that anyone who knows her has heard about Kristina.

"Everybody at work, my commander, my friends, all know about her," she said.

She has also tried to encourage others to become mentors, knowing firsthand the rewards.

"It's always better with a kid in your life," she said.

Vanessa Greeson, WARM Hearts program director, said there is still a need for adult mentors, particularly men. Currently, she said, there are about 15 youth between 6 and 16 years old on a waiting list.

The next mentor training at the Family YMCA will be held on Thursday, May 6, at 5:30 p.m. For more information, call 778-8557.