Founder of a Jamaica youth mentoring program
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: In the 1990s, 74-year-old Laverne White, of Laurelton, founded a mentoring program to help poor local children at her church in Jamaica - Brooks Memorial United Methodist Church, at 143-22 109th Avenue.
The program, which serves kids between the ages of 10 and 17, has two divisions - one for girls - Barbara Jordan Rites of Passage Program, and one for boys - R. Stanley Pettiford, Jr. Mentoring Rites of Passage Program.
These programs offer a number of activities to the five girls and 12 boys currently enrolled including leadership and financial discipline training, college fair visits and workshops on the dangers of drugs. The organization also teaches kids dining etiquette by taking them out to restaurants. In addition, it encourages the kids, many of whom are Caribbean- and African-American, to learn about each other’s cultures and to embrace their own cultures.
PERSONAL: Over the past few months, White, who is married and retired, got involved in another community-related activity. Between March and October, she handed out about 250,000 voter registration forms on the streets of Jamaica. She took it upon herself to obtain the forms from the Board of Elections because she wanted to make sure that as many people as possible could vote.
White did that because she said she was impressed with Senator Barack Obama and wanted to see him elected. Now that he has won the presidential race, White said she is happy.
Before retiring, White taught nursing to college students; her latest job was with New York University.
INSPIRATION: The success of her own children motivated White to establish a mentoring organization for youth. Her oldest son is a pastor at a church in Harlem, her middle son is an accomplished painter and her youngest son is a physician.
“I just said, ‘If you’re that blessed and you see the need of other people’s children, there’s something you could do,’” White explained.
She said many of the children that have used the services of her program still keep in touch and play a role in the church. “They are now young adults and accomplished people,” White explained.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: White said the greatest difficulty she encounters while trying to mentor kids is involving their parents and community members in the process. “It is always a challenge to keep it going,” she said.
FAVORITE MEMORY: Every time White sees the children served by her organization succeed it turns into a cherished memory. For example, in 1993, a boy from Jamaica signed up - he lied about his age, saying he was 10 instead of nine, because he really wanted to be part of the program, White recalled.
“We’ve seen him grow. He’s just a graceful, self-composed young man,” she said, explaining that he has a musical talent and has also fought in Iraq.