By Guest Blogger Betty Griffith

Walking along the coast, a beachcomber saw millions of starfish. He picked up one and threw in the ocean. “Do you really think that helped?” a voice asked. Said the beachcomber, “Yes, it matters to this one.”

My starfish was Elisabethe Hamilton, who is now a 2011 graduate of North Forsyth High School and a freshman at Forsyth Technical Institute. We met through the “Graduate. It Pays.” initiative, which helps connect caring adults with students who are not succeeding at grade level or who are in jeopardy of not graduating.

During Elisabethe’s early high school years, personal distractions prevented her from excelling in school. She knew her father wanted her to have a higher education than was possible for him. She wanted to bring pride to herself and to her family but she needed guidance. I thought my experience as a retired high school teacher would help prepare me for my mentoring duties. I quickly learned that all I really needed was a willingness to listen and one hour a week.

I was not her tutor but I continuously inquired about her homework and encouraged her to complete assignments. I was not her therapist but I was there to listen and care about her at home and at school.

Each week, I watched her confidence grow along with her interest in school, her grades and her future. We began to discuss higher education, filled out practice applications and read the requirements for admission. I introduced her to the classics, like The Gift from the Sea, Emma, The House of Seven Gables and Rebecca to improve her reading comprehension.” She improved my knowledge of pop culture by introducing me to the music of Taylor Swift.

Over the summer, we met for lunch on several occasions. I told her I would miss her when I walk the halls of North Forsyth with my new mentee. She smiled and said, “Maybe you will bond to her as we have.”

Yes, Elisabethe, was a gift from the sea but there are many starfish left on the beach.

In fact, the outlook for a high school dropout is grim. High school dropouts are more likely to be unemployed, on public assistance, in poor health and the single parent of a future dropout. Serving a jail sentence is also likely as 80% of prisoners are high school dropouts. Our community also pays a significant price in higher crime rates, less engaged citizens, and a financial cost exceeding $2 billion over the lifetimes of dropouts from just one year.

We all pay a price when students don’t graduate so I encourage you to consider becoming a mentor. You will be matched with your preference, younger or older students, in programs operated by Big Brothers Big Sisters or the Winston-Salem Chamber of commerce. Just one hour a week can make all the difference in the world.

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