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Drive To Enlist Mentors for At-Risk Youths Launched

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Washington--In an ambitious attempt to brighten the futures of disadvantaged children nationwide, a coalition of businesses and community-service groups has started a drive to enlist hundreds of thousands of volunteers as role models for the youngsters.

Headed by One to One, a private "mentoring" group based here, and United Way of America, the initiative aims to mobilize enough volunteers so that by 1995 every young person in the country who might benefit from a mentor has the opportunity to be matched with one.

"We are educating only about half the people in our country. That is a formula for disaster," David T.4Kearns, chairman of the board of the Xerox Corporation, told One to One's national mentoring conference here last week.

"I believe that mentoring may, in fact, be the fastest and quickest solution" to that situation, he said. Mr. Kearns is chairman of the National One to One Mentoring Partnership, one component of the new initiative.

Last week's conference marked the formal start of the initiative that the One to One group, begun in 1989, has been working on for about a year, according to the group's president, J. Douglas Holladay, an investment banker on loan to the program from Goldman, Sachs & Company.

Nearly 400 participants representing dozens of private-sector,8public-sector, and volunteer organizations across the country joined in the two-day event, organizers said.

In his talk, Mr. Kearns said members of the initiative must dramatically increase the number of adult volunteer mentors and "make mentoring a high priority in every American community." New leadership and financial resources need to come into play to help existing programs, he said, as well as to create other initiatives.

"One to One promises to be instrumental in generating large-scale interest in reaching out to young people in need of a supportive hand," Constance Clayton, Philadelphia's superintendent of schools, said in a speech at the conference.

The national mentoring partnership that Mr. Kearns heads has involved 24 types of organizations--including corporations, labor, the military, higher education, local government, and religious and sports groups--to use their national networks to start mentoring programs and involve volunteers.

Another of the strategies employed by the One to One initiative is creation of "local leadership councils," now forming in 15 cities, that organizers say will assess local needs and develop a plan to institutionalize community support for mentoring.

A third approach being used in the effort draws on business people and financial professionals to demonstrate entrepreneurial skills and how economic opportunity can be created. Five such pilot projects are under way, according to One to One.

"We have to provide an economic piece, an incentive," primarily to keep youngsters away from the lucrative drug trade, Mr. Holladay of Goldman, Sachs said of such efforts.

The One to One initiative, organizers said, is built on the belief that mentoring--providing young people with an adult to guide, tutor, listen, and serve as an example--can bring alienated youths back into the mainstream and give them the self-esteem and skills they need to succeed.

"These ... mentors provide the time, the guidance, the compassionate ear, and the sense of direction that is so vital if our children are to grow beyond the present and grasp the promise of a future," Ms. Clayton said in her talk.

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