Clara Perkins is not a lady who takes ‘No’ for an answer. So when she told Shamori Ricketts he should become a mentor, “I knew I couldn’t say no.”
“It’s time to give back,” Clara told him. She’s director of SAY Yes, one of the ministries of Pathways Danbury Youth Ministries, where she oversees more than 40 teen boys daily in the after-school tutoring program. “Someone was there for you,” she told Shamori, “and it’s time for you to be there for someone else.”
“I had thought about it” Shamori said of becoming a Pathways Danbury mentor, “but if Mrs. Perkins hadn’t said something, I probably wouldn’t have done it right away.” It wasn’t just Clara’s blunt coaxing that helped him decide; it was “because of what Pathways had done for me. It’s just something I felt I needed to get back to, to be a good role model for someone else.”
His decision to become a mentor turned out to be something special; it wasn’t just the creation of another mentor/mentee relationship for the 17-year-old mentoring program. Since its inception 113 boys have been part of the seven-year program, all of those who’ve completed it graduated from high school, and more than 80 percent of them have gone on to college or technical school.
But Shamori is the first Pathways Danbury mentee to become a mentor. And he’ll be a member of a small advisory committee of mentors who help oversee the program. Mark Lounsbury, the program’s ministry director, “told me it would it would be good for everyone in the program for me to be on the committee because I was a mentee and had a mentor and experienced all the stuff these kids are experiencing,” Shamori said. “Not like there’s a lot of pressure.”
Shamori joins a list of more than 100 men who’ve been mentors since Pathways Danbury started in 1997. Back then, he was one of the five boys who inaugurated the program as mentees. He graduated from the program – and Danbury High School, where he was Homecoming King in his senior year – in the first Pathways Danbury graduating class in 2002.
Now he’s 29 years old and still staking out his career. This past winter he worked fulltime for the city’s public works department, driving snow plows and other seasonal work. Now he’s driving a delivery truck for a Westchester County swimming pool warehouse fulltime for the summer before he goes back to the city for the winter. He’s hoping the city job will become full time year round. In the meantime, nights and weekends he’s on the serving crew at the Matrix banquet facility in Danbury – when he’s not coaching Danbury Athletic Youth Organization basketball games for boys.
“He’s a great role model,” said Clara, who has known Shamori since his first days as a mentee. “He has a great attitude, the boys look up to him and parents have a lot of respect for him.” He always has had “a great personality, he’s a good listener and has a smile that would warm anyone’s heart.”
Now he’s ready to take the next step as a young man, taking on the responsibility of being a mentor and role model for Jaleen McPhaul, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Danbury’s Broadview Middle School. “I’m still young,” Shamori said, “and he’ll be the first person to call me Mr. Ricketts. I’m not used to that.”
The two met in late March and “we’re getting along, doing fine,” Jaleen said. “I’m having fun with him. I wanted to be a mentee because I saw all the people with mentors have fun with them. I don’t live with my dad, and I wanted to have a man as a role model.”
“I’ll be trying to help him stay on the right path,” Shamori said. “I want to show him he can still be cool and wear his pants above his waist. I told him I was Homecoming King, and that shocked and impressed him. I’m glad I have things like that under my belt to tell him about. I want to see him succeed in everything he wants to do.”