Mentoring program holding fundraiser

PHOENIX — A counseling program that's been successful at reducing student truancy in the Phoenix-Talent School District hopes to raise enough money to hire a full-time, bilingual counselor.

The Future Quest Mentorship Program, a project of the Phoenix Counseling Center, works with students to help them stay in class.

"It's been really successful in reducing truancy," said Zuna Johnson, principal at Phoenix Elementary School, where the program is working with 11 kids.

During the 2007-08 school year, Johnson said 13 students from Phoenix Elementary School were referred to the mentorship program for attendance problems. Those students had a combined total of 114 absences through January 2008, but this year the same students had just 19 total absences for the same period.

Students and their families are referred to the program when administrators notice significant absences from school. The students meet in small groups and with mentors to work through many of the issues faced by kids in transitional phases of life.

"A quarter to one-half of the kids in the Rogue Valley experience behavioral issues, homelessness, substance abuse or abuse at home," said Lucie Scheuer, development director at the Phoenix Counseling Center. She said there has been a missing link in preventive measures, and programs such as D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) cover just the tip of the iceberg.

The program also reaches out to families. At Phoenix Elementary, there is a monthly parenting class in a Spanish-language format to assist immigrants in the transition to a new culture.

The mentoring program is one of the successful initiatives of the Phoenix Counseling Center, which was established as a nonprofit organization in 2002 as a substance abuse treatment center. It expanded over time and now provides a range of other family counseling services along with the mentoring program.

Managers would like to expand the mentorship program to reach all medium- to high-risk youths from south Medford to Ashland.

The growing numbers of Hispanic students in the school district mean more bilingual mentors will be needed, Scheuer said. At Phoenix Elementary School, for example, 39 percent of the students are Hispanic, she said.

Keziah Hinchen, executive director of the counseling center, said Southern Oregon University and the University of Guanajuato, Mexico, are working together to increase the number of bilingual mentors available for the program.

A benefit "Dance-In" for the mentoring program has been scheduled for today from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Pioneer Hall in Ashland, 59 Winburn Way, with performances by Frankie Hernandez and Larry and His Flask (a New Orleans jug band). Tickets can be purchased at the Music Coop in Ashland for $15.00 or at the door for $17.00.

Organizers hope to raise $3,000 at the event toward hiring a full-time bilingual coordinator for the counseling center and its programs. For more information, call the counseling center 541-535-4133.

Dawn Hatchard is a freelance writer living in Gold Hill. Reach her at

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