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Mentors Guide Underserved Teens

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As “a freshman looking for opportunities to serve the community,” Mallory Kozar found her ideal match in USC WYSE.

WYSE, or “Women and Youth Supporting Each Other,” is a national program that fosters mentoring relationships between college-age volunteers and underserved middle- and high school-age girls, aiming to guide the teenagers toward sound life decisions.

“Women of color and lower socioeconomic demographics experience discrimination in numerous ways that place hurdles in the way of a young girl’s path to success,” Kozar said. “WYSE strives to combat this discrimination by educating young girls and empowering them to make healthy, educated decisions about their lives.”

Once a week, 36 USC volunteers go into John Adams Middle School and Los Angeles Academy Middle School to work with 60 students. The days revolve around a chosen topic, be it STD protection, drug abstinence or the importance of staying in school. After a “movement-based” activity meant to loosen up the group, the teens “critically think about problems revolving around that day’s issue and talk about what can be done to combat such a problem,” Kozar said.

Relationships also grow outside the school; mentors and their students are encouraged to phone, e-mail and spend time together throughout the week.

Now a junior, Kozar has mentored four students. She speaks of them with great fondness and keeps in touch with those who have graduated. One of her favorite memories comes from her time with Darlene, who was failing math. Kozar decided to work with Darlene on her math homework, but could never tell if she was getting through because the girl was so quiet.

“Then, at the end of the year, she gave me a call. She told me she got a C in math and would be able to graduate. I was so touched that she would call and share such special news with me,” Kozar said.

Kozar has been so inspired by her WYSE experience that she stepped up her involvement during the spring, becoming executive director of the program. In that role, she meets regularly with the mentors, supervises the other directors and communicates with the national WYSE office. She’s also changed academic directions. Once a dissatisfied biology major, she now majors in gender studies.

The 20-year-old student has high aspirations for USC WYSE, which include moving the program into local high schools and encouraging former charges to close the circle and become mentors themselves. In the meantime, she aims for a career that will allow her to “do something active and political that benefits women and others oppressed by gender stereotyping.”

Mentors Guide Underserved Teens

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