RANCHO CUCAMONGA - Chris Luna says his life might be different if he had been mentored.

"Personally, I would go back and get a mentor during my teenage years so I could learn valuable lessons like choosing friends and goal-setting," said Luna, a mentor with Inland Empire United Way.

January is National Mentoring Month and Inland Empire United Way is recruiting volunteers like Luna and connecting them with organizations that help at-risk youth.

The United Way's Mentor Connection program matches at-risk youngsters with volunteer mentors from nearly 20 different nonprofit organizations.

Luna, 26, a mentor for Upland-based Reach Out, is a real estate investor from Ontario. Last fall, he was matched with a 14-year-old boy from Rancho Cucamonga.

Inland Empire United Way President and CEO Greg Bradbard shows the list of volunteering opportunities with the organization in Rancho Cucamonga. January is
Inland Empire United Way President and CEO Greg Bradbard shows the list of volunteering opportunities with the organization in Rancho Cucamonga. January is National Mentoring Month. (Jennifer Cappuccio Maher/Staff Photographer)

Right now, Luna says he is teaching the youth to be more goal-oriented.

"I'm trying to teach him how to invest some time in writing down his goals," he said.

Luna sees his mentee about twice each month and texts him several times, helping to keep him focused on school. Since the program started, United Way has recruited 549 mentors.

Greg Bradbard, president and CEO of Inland Empire United Way, said the Mentor Connection Initiative was launched 1 1/2 years ago.

"We called on committed volunteers to be involved in the lives of at-risk youth in the community - a big part of that as mentors, but also as tutors to improve academic skills," Bradbard said.

Research demonstrates that just one caring, committed adult can have a powerful impact on the life and future of a disadvantaged child, according to Bradbard.

The Rancho Cucamonga-based Inland Empire United Way not only recruits but trains tutors and mentors to prepare young people to succeed in school.

"Every volunteer we place increases the academic success of these kids," Bradbard said.

There are opportunities to fit any schedule, and anyone can make a difference - young adults, retirees and professionals.

Allan Collins, Inland Empire United Way director of volunteerism, sees the need on both sides and helps connect where the need is.

"Most of all we're looking for someone who has a passion to make a difference in the life of a child," Collins said.

"Someone who has time to commit to helping a child. Many times, kids don't have stability in their lives, so they need someone who is a committed, consistent and passionate role model."

The criteria for mentors covers a range of skills and time commitment.

Good mentoring characteristics include being willing to share and connect at the heart and mind level; building a relationship; being a good listener; being accessible, dedicated, insightful; have a good sense of humor and being able to give constructive advice.

"Mentoring is important for two main reasons in my opinion," Luna said. "The more important of the two is the experience factor.

"The boy I mentor is not motivated about school. He does not wake up excited about going to school every day, but it's not just school - it's life and other opportunities. Everything is a gift so you have to appreciate everything you have," Luna said.

According to Luna, the mentor can show the mentee the ropes on life situations and ultimately show him or her how to make the best decision possible when it comes to certain scenarios.

For more information on mentoring, call 909-980-2857, Ext. 227, or visit mentorconnection.org.


Reach Michel via email, find her on Twitter @michelnolan, or call her at 909-386-3859.