“If I had to describe my life without Jimmy in it, I think that would be a hard pill to swallow. … I would not be the father I am today,” says Jermaine Hervey, who remains close with mentor Jimmy Sorvillo (right) to this day.

 

According to 2022 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.5 million children, 1 in 4, live without a biological, step or adoptive father in the home. Children with a father in the home do better in school, are less likely to be mistreated and are more emotionally stable. Children who grow up with absent fathers are more likely to live in poverty; boys are more likely to become absent fathers; and girls are more likely to become single mothers. These facts, from the National Fatherhood Initiative, are worrisome. What can be done?

 

In the summer of 1991, a fresh-faced 22-year-old college graduate didn’t know how to solve all of society’s ills, but he wanted to do something. Jimmy Sorvillo signed up to volunteer as part of a summer program at STEP Ministries in North Little Rock. His expectation was to spend three evenings one week working with a child from the Eastgate Terrace low-income housing community. That’s how he met 13-year-old Jermaine Hervey.

 

“If I had to describe my life without Jimmy in it, I think that would be a hard pill to swallow,” says Jermaine today. “I would have a lot of bitterness toward the world, probably would have gone through a lot of dark times, and I would not be the father I am today.”

 

Jermaine is now 45 and the proud father of two. His son is in the military and going to college studying to become a doctor. His daughter is in 11th grade and wants to be a nurse. Jermaine has been an involved and present father in their lives, in large part because of the example Jimmy set for him. The two remain close.   

 

Mentor Jimmy Sorvillo (right) shares a conversation with Jermaine Hervey. The two men connected through STEP Ministries in North Little Rock when Jermaine was only 13.

 

“The reality is that mentoring, in its simplest form, is a relationship, consistently being there to love and support,” says the now 54-year-old Sorvillo. “Walking with someone through the good and bad. It is being patient, nonjudgmental and placing yourself in their shoes to better understand their situation.”

 

You will not find the word “mentor” in the Bible. But there are many examples of mentorship. Early in the wilderness journey, Moses begins to mentor Joshua. Naomi mentors Ruth, her Moabite daughter-in-law. Barnabas mentors Paul when he is a new Christian, and Paul later mentors Timothy.

 

Like Jimmy, I have always felt called to mentor. The first young men I mentored through our church are now almost 40 years old. I was a coaching group leader to Paul, Josh, Phil, Andrew, Chris, Caleb, Lee, Matt, Doug and Patrick from 7th grade through 12th grade. I sprinkled in lessons about faith, finance, service and leadership during dinners and while on camping or rafting adventures. I’ve seen a few of them in adulthood, but most I haven’t seen since they graduated high school.   

 

All of these young men were from stable, two-parent families. I sometimes wondered if they truly needed a mentor. So, I decided to join the Little Rock School District’s Volunteers in Public Schools program, or VIPS. According to the LRSD’s website, students of all ages are eager to be placed with a mentor. And children who are mentored are 46 percent less likely to use drugs, 52 percent less likely to skip school and 33 percent less likely to get into fights.

 

Over the years I have mentored Rayshon, Josh, Darian, Brandon, Josiah and Jaeveon … not as a group, but one-on-one. Just this week, I asked one of the 3rd graders I am currently mentoring what he did over the weekend, as the weather had been beautiful. He said his mom told him to “Go outside and touch some grass.”   

 

About five years ago, I started noticing the young people I worked with were getting phones at a younger and younger age. If they didn’t have a phone, they were obsessed with the phones of others. More and more it seemed that adventure, fun and excitement were being found inside a screen rather than outside the house. The feeling of a joystick or iPhone has become much more familiar than the feeling of grass.

 

Some of these boys would like to ride their bike to a friend’s house, go exploring down by the creek or dribble their basketball down to the neighborhood court. However, the neighborhoods they are growing up in do not mirror the small-town life that I experienced. Moms who are working two jobs or long shifts instruct their children to stay inside where they know it is safer. They are doing the best they can to keep their kids housed, clothed, fed, comfortable and safe.

 

What a mother is best at — what she is truly designed for — is to love, nurture, comfort, feed and care for her children. It’s why children so often cry for their mothers. It’s why moms both get and give the best hugs. It’s why the grown kids always come back for Mom’s home cooking. She can work two jobs and pay the bills and handle the discipline, but it’s more of a struggle, especially with boys who need to run and wrestle and take risks.

 

Both of our children, Spencer and Shelby, love the outdoors. They enjoyed climbing Pinnacle Mountain. Mom? Not so much. We would also on occasion climb train cars parked near the Big Dam Bridge and jump from the top of one car to the next (and promise not to tell Mom about it). We would skip school on a sunny spring day and drive to a secret fishing hole in Clark County. I built a treehouse in the backyard.

 

But my job wasn’t all fun and games. It was my name that their mother would invoke when a major infraction occurred: “We’ll deal with this when your father gets home.” My kids loved me a lot and feared me a little. And when the teen years got a little turbulent, I was the rock that both my wife and my children needed.

 

I certainly wasn’t a perfect dad, but I provided some things that a man is designed to provide: protection, discipline, direction and adventure. Who is offering up these things for the young men being raised by single mothers? Kids aren’t designed to look at screens all day. They need to get out and touch some grass, and moms know it. It’s just … adventure can be scary in a big city.

 

I have asked mentees about their fathers. On more than one occasion, the response has been “I don’t have a dad.” It is soul-crushing to me when I hear that. And while uncles and grandfathers along with male teachers and coaches and mentors can help fill the gap, we are all poor substitutes for a loving, engaged and present father or stepfather.

 

All the young men I have mentored are great kids, which is a credit to their mothers and all the others who were or are helping to raise them. And they all crave adventure. They want to go to the trampoline park. They want to ride in the back of a pickup. They want to go places: a pumpkin patch, a state park, a fishing hole, the zoo, the movies. But there are rightfully limits on how much adventure I can offer, as they are not mine.

 

I wish their fathers could see what they are missing. My own children taught me to give and live and love in ways that I had never experienced. I was tested and changed. I was humbled and proud. It is a journey I would not change and one I hate to think that so many men are missing out on.

 

I learned about Jimmy and Jermaine’s story after my wife, Mary Carol, took the reins as Executive Director for STEP Ministries. STEP has a long and successful history in North Little Rock of providing Christian, one-on-one mentors for at-risk youth. Youth who join the program and stick with the program have a 93 percent graduation rate, which is much higher than the overall rate for North Little Rock High School. STEP will soon be expanding south of the river into Little Rock, giving more Jimmys the opportunity to meet more Jermaines.

 

“Jimmy showed me how to become a man, and what I mean by that is he showed me what it looks like to be a father and a leader,” Jermaine says. “When it comes to the problems today, the lack of fathers creates a lack of guidance and structure. Too many kids become followers rather than leaders. Without the fathers in the home, the kids are often led by their peers.”

 

If you think you might be a good mentor, you are right, and Romans 15:14 confirms it. “I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.” If all you lack is the courage to get involved, Jimmy has a message for you, borrowed from Nike: “Just do it.”

 

Jason Pederson

For two decades, Jason Pederson served as KATV-Channel 7’s Seven On Your Side reporter. Now on the other “side” of his award-winning time on the news, he now serves as Deputy Chief of Community Engagement for the Arkansas Department of Human Services. His perspective-filled and thought-provoking column, “This Side of Seven,” publishes exclusively in AY About You magazine monthly.

 

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