Courtesy of David DellaPelle '17

Cornellians say mentoring at-risk Ithaca youth affords them a unique opportunity to connect with and give back to the local community.

November 20, 2016

Cornell Mentors Strive to Help Ithaca Youth Reach Potential

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Cornell’s chapter of College Mentors For Kids — a national mentoring program based in Indianapolis — is celebrating its fourth consecutive year of operations, according to the David DellaPelle ’17, the organization’s president.

Since its founding in 2013, the program has tripled in size and now serves over 100 elementary school students from the Ithaca area, according to DellaPelle. The majority of students involved in the program are considered “at-risk,” meaning they come from single parent households, families where neither parent has attained a college degree, low-income brackets or other backgrounds that put the children at risk of not pursuing their full potential at either a college or a trade school.

“Whatever [students] want to do, we want to inspire them to achieve that,” DellaPelle said.

DellaPelle said there are 133 Cornell students — 105 mentors and 28 student leaders — and several faculty members and alumni, who oversee the administrative aspects of the organization.

DellaPelle explained that College Mentors For Kids is unique, compared to other mentoring programs, due to its “highly structured” nature.

“[The program] actually brings the students to Cornell’s campus so they can envision a positive and successful future for themselves,” he said.

Each week, elementary school students visit Cornell’s campus from all over Ithaca to participate in a variety of enriching activities focused on “community service, higher education and cultural diversity,” DellaPelle said. He added that activities range from visiting Cornell’s ornithology lab to ROTC-themed relay races and teamwork-building exercises in Barton Hall. This semester, mentors and their “little buddies” visited a petting zoo known as Ezra’s Farm, Cornell Orchards and the Cornell Dairy Bar.

Each mentor is paired with a student who they directly work with for the rest of the year through structured activities designed to introduce students to the college environment and “inspire them to reach their full potential,” DellaPelle said.

“These kids live in Ithaca, but most of them … wouldn’t ever come to Cornell’s campus without this program,” he said. “They’re learning about what college is and when they think, ‘My mentor went to Cornell and studied history. I too can study history’ — it’s really remarkable.”

DellaPelle said College Mentors For Kids has achieved great success nationally, with 80 percent of mentees graduating high school and 76 percent of mentees attaining a two or four-year college degree.

DellaPelle also stressed the importance of “allowing Cornell students to get outside their bubble.”

“It’s easy at Cornell to … stay on campus and not branch out into the community, and [this program] allows [Cornell students] to see what the Ithaca community is really like,” he said.

DellaPelle said Cornell’s chapter of College Mentors For Kids’ aims to increase its mentor-mentee pairs from 105 to 120 in the spring and to expand further into Cayuga Heights — specifically the West Village housing community, which contains many at-risk children.

David Golding ’18, the organization’s vice president of programming, said he is especially excited for this expansion.

“Working with the children from West Village housing community has allowed us to fully carry out the College Mentors for Kids mission and really confirms the positive influence a mentorship program like ours can have, not only for the Cornell community, but also the greater Ithaca area,” he said.

DellaPelle said the most important aspect of the program is to “bridge the divide between Cornell and the Ithaca community.”

“I think that that’s kind of an overlooked benefit that this organization is providing to both Cornell and Ithaca,” he said.