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Polishing diamonds in the rough
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Don McDonald, left, and Aundra Williams are mentors in the 5000 Role Models of Excellence program.
If you were to take a tour of the survey section of Pinellas County’s Department of Environment and Infrastructure, you would notice several people utilizing CADD software in the operation of their assignments.

These projects include completing maps, sketches, descriptions and other survey related technical tasks. You would also observe someone such as Don McDonald, land survey technician II, who is highly skilled in the use of Civil 3D CADD mapping software.

His computer monitor would be displaying one of the various types of survey maps he prepares for engineering design improvements related to roadway, drainage and subsurface utilities infrastructure which are important to our community.

What is not widely known is that McDonald has been very important to our community in another area. His impact cannot be seen on a computer screen but is visible in the lives of others. McDonald has been a mentor in the Pinellas County school program 5000 Role Models of Excellence and has been changing young men’s lives for the past eight years.

As the father of three daughters, McDonald knows the importance of providing young people with the proper discipline, motivation and encouragement to succeed. He also realizes that many males in the African American community receive negative influences in their lives.

McDonald signed up to be a mentor knowing that a lot of at-risk kids would not complete their high school education without a good role model. The 5000 Role Models of Excellence program focuses on academics, grades and discipline that use mentors such as McDonald to impart wisdom from their own life experiences.

He has worked with more than 200 students - from elementary to high school - since becoming involved in the program and has had as many as 20 young men in his group when there were fewer mentors. They meet twice per month on school property and have a structured program to follow. If needed, school officials are available for consulting. The best chance for success is to mentor a student at an early age or before peer-pressure influences their thoughts and behavior. Most of the students McDonald has worked with have completed high school and some continued their education through technical and college courses.

The American social reformer, writer and statesman, Frederick Douglass once observed, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Aundra Williams, 20, would agree with that assessment. Williams joined the program in the ninth grade at a time he was experiencing a lot of negative peer pressure; however, he had a stable and supportive home, was making good grades and had the wisdom at that early age to know he needed a positive influence from outside the family to help him strive for excellence.

McDonald was just the right person to understand Williams’ challenges and potential. He recalled Williams’ four years in the program, how his enthusiasm seemed boundless and how he was receptive to banishing negative thoughts about his own potential. Looking back, Williams recalls, “McDonald would have given me the shirt off his back. He was always there for me and instilled in me leadership. He was my role model of what I wanted to be.” William thinks of McDonald “like a second dad. He taught me life skills. What it means to be a man. Responsible. Respectful.”

Hearing those words is the best reward McDonald could have ever hoped for, however his influence has extended even further.

Williams is now a mentor in the program and has seven young men under his wing this year—all while attending college full time. He proudly observed that two of the young men are making all A’s while the others “need to buckle down.”

A success story that seems to embody the wisdom of an old African proverb, which states: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

David Baker is public information manager for Pinellas County Communications.

Schools need 500 mentors

LARGO – Pinellas County school officials have made it a goal to recruit at least 500 additional mentors by the end of the 2012-2013 school year.

The campaign is “Get Engaged – Be a Mentor!” and kicked off in January.

“All children need and deserve at least one adult in their life who will listen to them and guide them and cheer for them. Mentors truly do change lives, and even a small investment of time can provide a lifetime of rewards,” said Michelle Roberge, PCS coordinator of family and community relations. “We’re asking our community members to consider mentoring a Pinellas County student.”

The public is asked to help make a difference in a child’s life.

“When one selflessly shares their time, their knowledge and their experiences with a child, they have the opportunity to positively impact our students and our community as a whole,” said Superintendent Michael A. Grego. “I am so thankful for the many people throughout our district who have dedicated themselves to supporting our students through mentoring.”

For information on how to become a mentor, contact Michelle at 588-6405 or
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