Ivan Marlin is 13 years old. Brian Franklin is in his twenties. On most weekends, the pair plays basketball or goes to the movies. Recently they went kayaking in the Hudson River off the coast of uptown Hoboken. And sometimes, Marlin says, they just “chill.”
Recently they made a deal that Franklin could play Marlin’s Xbox if he made his famous chili.
But regardless of what they do together, they are learning valuable lessons as the relationship builds into something important and special to both young men.
Ivan is enrolled in the TRUE Mentors program, an organization launched three years ago in the mile-square city. It pairs local kids one on one with older residents who can teach them, through activities and actions, the importance of things like honesty, teamwork, sportsmanship, and individuality.
“Brian teaches me to believe in myself,” said Ivan last week. “And he also teaches me to believe in others. I try to encourage other people to do their best.”
Franklin says that he gets as much out of mentoring Ivan as he hopes Ivan does.
“Brian teaches me to believe in myself. And he also teaches me to believe in others.” – Ivan Marlin
Teaching core values
Ivan is one of many children from ages 7 through 17 who take advantage of the TRUE Mentor program. The program typically meets on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at the Boys and Girls Club on Second and Jefferson streets.
On those nights, a team of mentors teach classes that engage the entire group, but that’s only half the draw.
Each child is free to spend as much time with their mentor outside the program as they wish. They bond over shared interests to build a friendship that teaches the organization’s core values.
Inspired by its name, TRUE’s pillars are: try your best, respect yourself and others, use your gifts and talents, and encourage those around you.
“We really believe in the benefits of true relationships,” said the program’s executive director, James Sproule. “But we also believe that to enjoy those benefits, a kid has to really be paired with the right mentor, and we do our best to get that right.”
Because of the program’s dedication to matching the right child to the right mentor, it can take up to a few months before the process is complete. Additionally, parents are included in the process, Sproule explained, so they, as well as their child, can get comfortable with the mentor.
The mentors, he said, come from all walks of life, but share one thing in common.
“We have mentors who are just out of college and some who have been living here for many years,” he said. “They all love Hoboken and they all want to help kids here realize their potential.”
The mentors come up with activities for the kids that match both their interests. Twelve-year-old Natalia Eid, who has a keen sense for fashion, sometimes goes to the mall with her mentor, and a few times even went shopping in Manhattan.
Javier Negron, 11, plays football with his mentor, Mark, during the offseason. Most Saturdays during the season, Mark attends his games.
“We also go for ice cream a lot, talk on the phone,” he said. “It’s cool. I feel better playing football because he teaches me to stand up for myself and not be afraid.”
TRUE Mentors is entirely volunteer-based, and relies heavily on community participation and fundraising to continue running.
Next Saturday, Oct. 12, the group will hold its biggest fundraiser to date, a scavenger hunt with participation from around 500 residents, local businesses, and organizations.
The hunt will kick off from Church Square Park at 2 p.m., but participants should arrive for registration at 1:30 p.m.
Teams can sign up with up to five people for $40 in advance or $50 on the day of the event, or residents can enroll alone and be placed in a team, for $10 in advance or $15 on the day of.
The scavenger hunt will send teams, which can be for adults and families, to two sets of businesses around town. Which businesses, however, will be up to the teams to figure out, as they’ll be given a set of clues or riddles. The scheme is not only to raise money for TRUE Mentors, said Sproule, but also to give a boost to local businesses and allow more people in town to get to know one another.
“It’s a great opportunity, and it’s really going to help a good cause,” he said.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org