RANTOUL —Chief Paul Farber and some other members of the Rantoul Police Department have turned into carpenters of sorts with the help of students at Northview School.
They are helping students build what the Rev. Dr. Harold Davis, founder of TALKS Mentoring, calls a "bridge to wisdom."
The police officers have agreed to come to the school each week to help students they are mentoring gain a little more wisdom to build the metaphorical bridge.
The students don't mind missing out on recess time. Two of the mentees — Jacob Dailey and Clayton Mabry — said they look forward to their time with mentor Sgt. Sean Arie.
"I like it!" one said.
"I love it!" added another.
"I love everything about it," Dailey said.
The mentoring sessions have started only recently. The students are learning life lessons that many adults take for granted such as the proper way to greet someone, Davis said. The youngsters are taught how to approach someone they are meeting for the first time, look the person in the eye, offer a greeting and extend a hand.
"We focus a lot on respect," said Davis, who has based the mentoring sessions the books "Talks My Father Never Had With Me," which he wrote, and "Talks My Mother Never Had With Me" by his wife, University of Illinois music Professor Ollie Watts Davis.
"We want the children to understand that adults can teach them, guide and sometimes get on their cases because they care about them," Davis said. "The thesis statement makes a point that every boy needs a man to get on his case."
Northview Principal Carolyn Hinton said police officers are the perfect people to serve as mentors because they do what they say they'll do. They show up when they say they will.
The officers — five in all with more expected to participate, according to Farber — come once a month, and each has three students to mentor.
Hinton said many young people today don't receive much input from adults other than school staff and teachers because both parents might be working and not home when the children leave for school or get home from school. Many youngsters live in one-parent households.
"These children are so desperate for adults to talk to," Hinton said. "The children come in the door of the classroom and they tell the teacher what they did last night, what they had for supper" and so forth. But there is generally just one teacher for 20 or more students.
"The time is the main element for most parents, period," said Hinton, adding that the program is not meant to imply that the parents are doing a bad job. Many times they're just overwhelmed. "This is adding an adult to these children's lives," the principal said.
Hinton said the word is spreading among students about the mentors, and many students are coming up to her or teachers and asking to be mentored.
Students are selected based on recommendations from their teachers.
Police officers who are mentoring third- and fourth-grade students at Northview include Farber, Arie, Eric Ruff, Marcus Beach and Thane Jackson.
"As time goes on, there will be more people involved in it," Farber said.
Farber approached Davis, who is affiliated with Canaan Baptist Church in Urbana, about extending the TALKS Mentoring program, which is based in Champaign and used nationwide, to Rantoul.
He said the officers know that their mentoring role is important.
"We know that connecting with the youth of the community is very vital," Farber said. "We as a police department want to do it ... for the good of the community, but we can't carry the whole ball."
Farber said he anticipates parents from other schools in Rantoul will ask for mentoring programs. Getting enough mentors for all the children will take time and volunteers.
Farber said he likes the program developed by Davis, saying that the material used "fits our ... rural Midwest community. It addresses the needs and problems and the positive things of ... lifestyles in our community."
Davis said the program is designed to help the mentors. He said many mentoring programs don't train the mentors.
"This program, we provide protection for the mentor," he said. "It's easier to get mentors to do this. We protect your integrity. You're with three children in a public setting. (And) you're asked for no financial expenditures. You're asked for a total time commitment of one hour a week, including travel."
Farber said the youngsters aren't the only ones who stand to benefit from the program.
"It's a growing experience for us police officers," Farber said. "It's an enjoyable, worthwhile (activity) for us."
Davis said when asked to describe the program, he tells people it's a "grandmama common sense" program.
"That's what I like to call it," Davis said.
Returning to the topic of respect, Davis said there is a "massive lack" of respect and integrity in today's society.
"American democracy is designed to work in conjunction with integrity," Davis said. "Once integrity is gone, American democracy will no longer work."
Davis said there is a growing lack of empathy by people for their fellow man.
"The technology of today, the anonymity of going online; children who don't go out to the corner field and play baseball unsupervised. We had to learn how to interact. Nowadays children believe they're entitled to a high level of pleasure with a minimum amount of work."
Other topics covered include peer pressure, relationships with siblings, anger management, work ethic, understanding different races and cultures, and having a positive attitude.
The program is explained to each mentor and mentee who agree to take part, and they must sign a contract to participate.
Recently, Davis sat down with Farber and mentees Jace Jacobs, Anthony Flynn and James Moton.
Davis had the students repeat after him several statements about themselves, including, "I have leadership abilities that need to be developed" and explained to them that these wisdom traits must be built bit by bit like a bridge is built.
"Chief Farber comes each week to help you build your wisdom," Davis told the students. "And your bridge gets a little bit longer."
The boys repeated the statements, "Every boy needs a man in his face challenging him with wisdom regarding critical issues and decisions in his life."
Also, "Our prisons are full of young men who did not have a man in his face telling them they were wrong and then providing them with a solution."
Davis, a former elementary teacher, said he started the program as a church program. In 1998 he began promoting it full time in the schools "because of the terrible condition our schools are in."
He added, "The schools get all the blame for the problems that are coming to us from kids at home. The (situation) for children has gotten much worse, so the larger society must increase its support for everybody's kids."
Davis said the mentoring program in Rantoul will help everyone involved.
"It makes so much sense (for the police department to be involved)," Davis said. "It gives the officers an education, and the children get to see that the police officers are human beings. They're not a negative force in the community."
People wanting to serve as mentors or learn more about the program should call TALKS Mentoring at 217-351-5889.