A mentoring program to help academically struggling, underserved students in Howard County has completed its pilot year and plans to expand when school resumes. That’s the message Rotary Club of Columbia-Patuxent members heard from June 25 guest speaker Steven Porter (shown in photo with Rotarian Wendy Letow).  

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Porter is a co-founder of Ohana Howard County (OhanaHC), a local non-profit modeled after a similar organization in Baltimore. “Ohana” means “family” in Hawaiian. The idea is to set up an “extended family” of volunteer mentors for at-risk 9th graders. Beginning with 10 students and 40 volunteers at Wilde Lake High last September, Porter said the pilot had encouraging signs of progress, especially in building trusting relationships for those involved.  

OhanaHC’s goals are:

  1. To help young people work toward removing any barriers that may stand in the way of their achieving success. 
  2. To build a diverse, equitable and inclusive community culture with more social, economic and educational opportunities for all in Howard County.

Porter said that in addition to Wilde Lake, the program is expanding to Long Reach, Oakland Mills and Hammond high schools for 2021-22, serving eight students per school, with a total of 140 volunteers. It’s a leap of faith because “it may be two years before we see a significant difference in how these students see the world and what they try to do in it,” he said.  

The future growth for OhanaHC services is daunting, since about 400 9th graders enter the four high schools each year with deep academic needs, Porter added. “It really would take about 1,600 volunteers to mentor these kids,” he said. “But think what it would mean to help young people make good decisions about their future.  It has the potential to change the lives of hundreds of Howard County students and the people who help them.” 

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