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Mentoring Program Brings Relatives Together

Reaching out through time — life is full of coincidences.

So close and yet so far away.

That could be the caption for a portrait of Ronald G. Hull and Jeffrey Jarrell, ages 57 and 8 respectively. The most recent additions to The Grandfathers Group Mentoring Program.

The initial meeting was on December 22, 2001 at the Campagna Center on S. Washington Street in Alexandria when Hull volunteered to serve as a foster Grandfather. According to Jeffrey's mother Kathleen, "It was a Christmas gift direct from heaven."

But on Jan. 4, when Hull and his wife, Doris, went to Jarrell's home, just off Richmond Highway, to make the first real contact, a second miracle occurred. They discovered they truly were related.

In the process of the Hulls and Jarrell getting to know each other, Kathleen Jarrell was showing some family pictures and history. Among the material was an obituary of a California relative. Listed as a survivor was Ronald G. Hull.

"My mother's sister's husband is Ron Hull's half brother," Kathleen said. "All the rest of the family is in California except for us." They also discovered they were both born and raised in Fresno, CA., but 20 years apart.

She and Jeffrey will be expanding their family ties this August when they attend their first family reunion in Daytona Beach. As the self-appointed family historian and genealogist, Hull will personally be introducing his latest discoveries.

But the coincidence deepens. Both Hull and Kathleen are retired military. Hull was in the Coast Guard, stationed at headquarters here from 1979 to 1982. Jarrell had been in the Army stationed at Fort Belvoir from 1994 to 1996.

Following his tour of duty in Washington, Hull was stationed in Cape May, NJ, until his retirement in 1985, when he moved back to this area where he resides on Duxbury Road, just five minutes from Jarrell, who stayed in this area upon her retirement in 1996.

From 1995 to 2000, Hull drove a school bus in Area three for the Fairfax County School System. Jarrell drives a school bus for the Fairfax County School System in Area three.

Hull's wife remains on active duty with the Coast Guard stationed at the Washington Headquarters. He now works for Virginia Railway Express.

ECHO IN AN EMPTY NEST

"I come from a large family and I am the father of two sons, one daughter and two stepdaughters. Our youngest son, Jesse, is now a freshman at Morgan State University in Baltimore," Hull explained. "It seemed kind of lonely. We even thought about adoption."

He also pointed out, "When I was growing up all adults took on the role of watching out for each other's children. The whole community was involved."

Hull became aware of The Grandfathers Group program through his church, made application, and was introduced to Kathleen Jarrell and her son Jeffrey. "I wanted to be involved with kids. I always have, even coaching little league," he said. "I'm also very fortunate in that my wife supports this 100 percent."

In 1988 James I. Chatman, a successful African-American businessman in the Washington area, and his wife, Lavern, made a grant to the Northern Virginia Foundation to establish a new mentoring partnership with the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of The Campagna Center.

The Grandfathers Group, with its motto, "A Mirror For The Men Of The Future," recruits and trains senior African-American men to serve a minimum of one year as foster 'grandfather' mentors for African-American boys, ages six to 10, whose fathers are not available to them for support and guidance.

Joan Dale, Campagna Center's Coordinator of The Grandfathers Group, explained, "We go into the community to search out males that are over 50 to serve as role models. We feel that they have lived through enough to be able to offer a wealth of experience and value systems."

She went on to note, "This is a one-on-one, independently based, program. It is supported by the Center but not run through the Center. We do group events every month, but the real meat and potatoes is the independent time they spend together."

Presently there are 15 matched pairs of men and boys. "Although the commitment is only for one year, there are seven grandfathers who started in 1988 and are now in their third year with the same boys. Our hope is that as the boys get older that contact will be maintained," Dale said.

IT'S NOT ABOUT SPLASH

"A lot of the things they do together are very ordinary things. It's not about splash," Dale emphasized. "And the mother or guardian are a very important part of this. The grandfathers also go through a very thorough background check.

"The children have come to us through recommendations by the schools, churches, or just by reading about us." Kathleen Jarrell, by her own admission, had been pressing Dale to find a "grandfather" for Jeffrey.

Jarrell is divorced and Jeffrey's father lives in North Carolina. He was visiting his father over the Christmas holidays and didn't get to open his presents here until his return at the first of the year.

"When I first met Uncle Ron," as Jeffrey now refers to Hull, "I thought it was great that he was here to help me open my presents," the third grader at Fair Hill Elementary School enthused. "My uncle tutors me in math and when were in the car he helps me learn the month's of the year, and dates, and stuff."

Hull explained that they have also done some of those "regular things" referred to by Dale. One was to go to a Redskins game, the one when it poured rain.

But all was not lost. The 'Skins won and they were sitting in the winning seats for a free dinner. Last week they went to The Lyceum to take in the model train displays. Grandfathers are expected to give at least three hours a week of their time to the program.

"One of the main elements of the program is that we do fun things together to develop their social skills. We're looking forward to a busy Spring," Hull said.

In addition to her job as a school bus driver, Kathleen Jarrell also is a coordinator for the children's program known as Eagle's Wing at Mount Eagle Elementary School.

"It is designed to aid those children that need academic help. Volunteers are taught by the school system how to help on test programs, language instruction, and other academic areas," Jarrell explained.

NATIONAL MENTORING MONTH

January 2002 marks the first National Mentoring Month [NMM] and The Grandfathers Group is a part of that observance. Lead by the Harvard University Mentoring Project and The National Mentoring Partnership, NMM is a concerted effort to bring awareness to the important and increasing need for volunteers to mentor young people throughout the nation.

The month was created to help focus on mentoring as a national priority. On Jan. 10, the U.S. Postal Service unveiled its new 2002 "Mentoring a Child" commemorative stamp in Annapolis, MD. The postal service uses this method, the issuance of commemorative stamps, to raise public awareness of social issues.

Cities in more than 40 states now have a local partnership of mentoring programs in place to provide information to prospective mentors and to handle screening, referral, training, and supervision. The overall goal is to raise awareness of the benefits of mentoring in a variety of programs such as The Grandfathers Group.

"One of the best things about Northern Virginia is that there are 30 mentoring programs in operation and we all work together to support one another," Dale said. "The Grandfathers Group is part of the Fairfax Mentoring Partnership."

"We are receiving many calls from the Mount Vernon area. Our newest demands are children in the Route 1 area. And, different from the Marines, we are looking for a lot of good men out there right now," Dale concluded.