I believe the greatest threat to our nation is the “fatherless” or “vulnerable” generation. The school system is the de facto answer to the problem of feeding, clothing, educating and helping kids gain social, emotional and life skills. But that’s too big a job for an institution.

School doesn’t replace the family. School doesn’t fill the gaps of emotionally or physically absent parents. Kids can’t excel if they don’t have two valuable questions answered – “Am I loved? Am I valued?”

Everything else crumbles – behavior, grades, friendships, self-esteem – when a child feels inadequacy in their value.

I know this to be true because I was one of those kids. I failed three grades because my home life was tumultuous. I spent my time seeking the attention of anyone. I didn’t care how I got it.

Negative attention was still attention. And that’s what’s troubling our kids.

Then, we add the pressure of performance on tests and throw money at more interventions in study. We take away recess. We spend more time on skills and less time on building kids up where they need it most – confidence and value.

We expect teachers to fill in all these holes. And many step up and love these kids. It’s often a teacher who starts a child on the path to getting the help they need. Or it’s a nurse or a counselor.

But these professionals are stretched thin. They cannot focus on one child all day with crowded classrooms. They can help, but they can’t completely bridge that gap – “Am I valued? Am I loved?” They are governed by metrics and testing.

The answer to this crushing problem is placing positive adult role models – mentors in these children’s lives.

An hour a week of one-on-one attention. Someone to listen to them and hear their fears, their struggles, their pain. This is the turning point for these kids.

I know because it’s what worked for me. It’s the turning point I needed to take my life from “get attention at all costs” to “I matter and I can be successful.”

I spent a year with a mentor my junior year of high school. His presence in my life changed me for the better. I didn’t know it then, but it paved the path for my life – to build bridges between kids and communities through mentoring programs.

Over the past 12 years, I’ve worked in Lawrence County, Tenn., through IAM4kids to match hundreds of students and mentors.

I’ve spoken to more than 5,000 students, faculty and staff in open assemblies since May 2016. I’ve spent hours every semester in all three local high school wellness classes with more than 1,000 students.

I’ve trained hundreds of mentors to help kids find their value. I’ve also worked with all of the Lawrence County principals, vice principals, counselors and other staff on “Youth Mental Health First Aid” as a certified instructor.

I currently lead four group mentoring classes to more than 50 students in the high school and alternative school in my district and work with 11 students as their mentor each week.

I don’t believe this is just a school issue – it’s a community issue. That’s why I’ve presented to thousands in civic, community and faith-based organizations.

Mentoring is my life’s work – building bridges between kids and communities.

I am available to speak to your group, train your staff (school, church or community group) or help you start a mentoring program in your community.

Please contact me for more information on pricing and a scope of services tailored to your interest.