Kent Smith, a retired retail executive and business owner, was recognized with the Service to Youth award at the 2015 Petaluma Awards of Excellence in March for his prolific involvement in the Mentor Me program.
“I was just amazed,” Smith said. “I got the phone call that I had won this award and I had no idea that I had even been nominated. I just really am very flattered and honored. I’m not used to getting recognition and it feels great.”
Mentor Me is a youth mentoring organization founded in 2000, which matches adults in the community with at-risk youths for one hour, one day a week. The program has blossomed with 18 partner schools in four districts, primarily located in Petaluma.
Deb Dalton, Executive Director of Mentor Me, said there are two main reasons why she nominated Smith. The first is Smith mentors seven kids, the most of anybody. Secondly, Smith exemplifies what it is to be a mentor in his eight years of involvement.
“Kent is extraordinary and he always has been,” said Dalton, “Kent becomes a family mentor. He gets involved in a way that really looks at the whole picture. He is so filled with compassion for not only the kid, but the family and their circumstances.”
Smith’s compassion is evident. On one occasion, he helped a mentee repair a slight facial disfigurement.
Smith said he approached the mentee one day with a proposition to find the means to repair his lip, which the boy accepted without hesitation.
The boy was eventually able to get affordable health insurance, which led them to a plastic surgeon who will undertake the surgery free of charge. The mentee is currently receiving dental care which, like the surgery, is free of charge.
Smith was also able to help the same boy receive his social security card and documents which allowed him to get a job.
Smith’s personal story growing up lends to the character he personifies today. Born in Connecticut and raised in New England, Smith’s experience in school was difficult.
It was not until his junior year in high school, when a teacher finally recognized his potential, that he discovered he was not “dumb,” Smith said.
“I had trouble academically and I had no one who could help,” said Smith. “No one was there to help me with homework or anything I could not understand. That’s one of the reasons why I like this program because I know these kids are in the same situation.”
Smith mentors through a number of means. Whether it is a trip to In-and-Out Burger, a game of hybrid lacrosse and tennis, a Warriors basketball game or Sharks hockey game, Smith tailors his mentoring to the mentee.
“We are generations apart, but there is just something unique about it,” said Smith. “There is no reason to stop. I love doing it.”