Every week, Morris Anyah and Willie Mobley spend time together at Kelly Hall YMCA in west Humboldt Park.

But they do more than challenge each other to one-on-one contests on the basketball court.

They work on Mobley’s reading, vocabulary, and sometimes math skills. Anyah is a mentor to Mobley, an eighth-grader at Galapagos Charter School on the city’s Northwest Side.

They are part of the Kelly Hall Mentoring Program, which started in January 2009.

The program has been successful in helping high-risk kids change their lives for the better. All students who have remained in the program throughout high school have graduated, said Kenneth Maddox, senior program director for the Kelly Hall Mentoring Program.

Many have gone on to college and found jobs.

Currently, there are 46 youth matched with mentors in the program. But there are about 25 youngsters on the waiting list for the program.

Finding men interested in mentoring is challenging, officials said.

“My biggest concern is more male mentors coming in because we have a backlog of young, black men that need mentors,” Maddox said. “A lot of our young, black males don’t have that father figures all the time in their life and this way they can have somebody that is positive guiding them and giving encouragement to do things, to not try things and to stay away from gangs and drugs.”

Mobley spent about seven months on the waiting list before being matched with Anyah.

“I needed guidance in my life,” said Mobley, 15.

Mobley, a B student, said he wants to become an A student.

Mobley and Anyah, a 45-year-old Nigerian native, work on reading comprehension, math and writing skills during their weekly meetings, but they also make time for fun.

“I play basketball with him and I always lose,” said Anyah, a lawyer who got law degree from the University of Dayton. “In fact, I’m awful.”
Mobley plays on his school’s basketball team.

“Mentoring is just vital to keeping kids on track,” Anyah said. “They know that beyond mom or dad, there is a third person who will hold them accountable if they don’t walk the straight and narrow.”

To become a mentor at the Kelly Hall YMCA call (773) 886-1220 or go to http://www.ymcachicago.org/pages/kelly-hall-ymca.

This is one in a series of articles being produced though a partnership between the Chicago Sun-Times and the Illinois Mentoring Partnership.
Niccole Caan Kunshek, the author of this story, is a student at Northwestern University.