Portland school connects community and the classroom

Portland Mentoring Alliance is all about providing academic support and building relationships with students in and out of the classroom. (Portland Mentoring Alliance)

PORTLAND (WGME) -- Over the last several months, CBS 13’s Brooke Rayford has been helping to better the lives of young women in Portland.

She hosted an event for girls of color on Tuesday.

It's part of the Portland Mentoring Alliance. The goal is to create a comfortable outlet for teens and aid in academic advancement.

Portland Mentoring Alliance is all about providing academic support and building relationships with students in and out of the classroom.

“She's been a great friend to me. She brings out my comfortableness, she helps me come out my shell, we can joke with each other. It's really fun to have someone there when you need it,” Apiyo Charles, sophomore mentee, said.

The mentoring organization is the oldest in any high school in New England, matching almost 100 volunteers with teens at Portland High School each year.

“The school district supports this program and I think it pays itself back because of the number of community members that are involved,” Portland Mentoring Alliance Director Glenn Nerbak said.

Nerbak says while the program is open for all students, it resonates with first and second-generation immigrants.

“If I was in another country, I would want someone taking me under their wing, helping me learn about the culture, the country. If I need help with language, learning English, it provides a lot of benefits in that regards,” Nerbak said.

Mentor Johanna Albanese says through her time working with students, she feels more programs like this are needed to help strengthen the community.

“We're talking about some heavy topics and the fact that this program creates a safe space to do that, I think it’s so necessary given where we are in the world,” Albanese said.

Nerbak adds it’s heartwarming to see a mentor stay connected beyond graduation

“I’ll lose them from the program but the greater good is being served in that the mentor is helping that student navigate through college where their parents may not have had that opportunity. The student has that opportunity with that extra support,” Nerbak said. The ones that have graduated already I’m still in touch with and one of them is in college. Seeing her come back and connect with all the dreams she's wanted to complete. She's working towards them. It's remarkable to witness that.”

Albanese is now mentoring Apiyo, who is from Uganda.

“I think we can relate so much. She's helped me with homework, we go on walks, eat ice cream, she's been a great help to me,” Apiyo said.

While recruiting is a part of the process, many students and volunteers inspire others to keep the impact strong.

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