TakePart is highlighting exceptional mentors and their mentees in a four-part series during January's National Mentoring Month.
When it comes to all-star mentors, Mr. Al Talley takes the cake. The 76-year-old has been mentoring elementary, middle and high school kids for more than 15 years.
He mentors up to five students at a time and is a warm and famiiar face around the schools of Renton, Washington.
For Mr. Talley, mentoring is all about "Giving kids someone who cares about them." He adds with a laugh, "I think I get more out of it than they do."
After speaking with Matt, one of Talley's mentees, it's clear that Mr. Talley makes a lasting impact as well.
Mr. Talley has been mentoring Matt since the third grade. Now in college, Matt says, "What really struck me about him was his kindness, his love for other people and what he is willing to do for people."
Mr. Talley says they played games like cards and ping-pong but most importantly, "Throughout the years, we'd just talk. We talk about anything he wanted to talk about. We talk about the world, about school, about the future."
Matt says his mentor's biggest contribution was giving him a friend he could always turn to.
When Matt graduated this year, Mr. Talley presented him with his diploma.
Mr. Talley is a board member with Communities in Schools of Renton. Communities in Schools is a nationwide network of passionate professionals working in public schools to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve a better chance in life.
He is currently mentoring a few boys in elementary and one in high school. His high-school student has been with him since the third grade.
Aside from "trying to help the students find their way" and being there for them when they need a friend, Mr. Talley notes the importance of keeping them in line.
"I set objectives for the kids," he says. "I let them know up front that I'm going to talk to the principal, the teacher, the cook, the janitor, everyone. If they didn't do in the past week what they were supposed to do as far as homework, school work, respect, we would not go out that day." He also puts on the tutoring hat if kids are falling behind in school.
Mr. Talley and his mentee Matt urge others to become mentors too.
For the kids who are struggling in school or having a hard time at home, Matt says a mentor can provide friendship and "someone they can always turn to and look up to."