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Lake County program helps children through mentoring

Two years ago, Syncere Randall and his family lived in his mother’s car.

The unstable environment led the youngster to struggle in the classroom — and at times be disruptive. Even after the family got a home, Syncere still had problems in school.

But after the boy partnered with Jeff Kaiser, of Mundelein, he turned things around.

In fact, he is on the honor roll and even has an after-school job guiding younger kids to buses.

The 10-year-old Waukegan boy and Kaiser belong to Catholic Charities Lake County Youth Mentorship Program.

The one-year-old program links at-risk Lake County youth, ages 9-12, with mentors who are at least 21. The mentors meet with mentees about two hours a week for at least one year, according to program coordinator Beth Sheehan-Lucas.

“There are so many single-parent households in Waukegan,” Sheehan-Lucas said. “So the kids in Waukegan face many challenges. We are not replacement parents, but we are here to be supportive. The mentors are like a big brother. The mentors try to show them new things.”

There currently are 20 children with mentors in the program.

Although the program only requires mentors to spend a couple of hours each week with youngsters, Kaiser, an operations manager at a warehouse, often spends four or five hours weekly with Syncere.

Syncere and Kaiser, who have been paired together since May, attend movies together, volunteer with charities, swim and listen to music.

They even have a secret handshake.

“We both like sports and have similar interests and like music, although we have different tastes,” Kaiser said as he and Syncere laughed at a Catholic Charities office in Waukegan.

“He’s good. . . . OK, he’s great,” said Syncere, who lives with his mother and three siblings.

The relationship has motivated Syncere to not only do better in school, but he also wants to mentor other children when he is older.

Those interested in becoming a mentor can contact Sheehan-Lucas at (847) 782-4224.

This is one in a series of articles being produced through a partnership between the Chicago Sun-Times and the Illinois Mentoring Partnership.

Dani Anguiano, the author of the story, is a Northwestern University student.