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Jan. 8, 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson"s declaration of an "unconditional war on poverty in America." The anniversary has created much discussion in the public square not only about the causes of poverty, but also about the effectiveness of the varied strategies employed over the past 50 years to combat poverty. It has also sparked discussion on the toll poverty takes on the lives of the more than 46.5 million children, men and women across the United States currently living at or below the federal poverty line -- all of whom live in one of the world's wealthiest countries.
Pope Francis, Time Magazine's Person of the Year, has consistently called on us, both individually and collectively, to pay attention to the growing disparity between the very rich and the poor. On June 20, 2013, in his address to the Food and Agricultural Organization, Pope Francis explained that "a way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being." His focus on caring for the poor and the disenfranchised has set a tone not only for us as Catholics, but for the entire world as well. When Pope Francis asks "how can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points," he calls upon each of us to re-examine our priorities.
Closer to home, we know that people are struggling in our own communities, neighborhoods and families. The child poverty rate in Massachusetts is at near record highs -- one in every seven children today lives in poverty, with half of those children experiencing deep poverty, defined as an annual income of just over $11,400. We also know that when children live in poverty, the likelihood of success in adulthood is negatively impacted. Studies consistently show that children living in poverty are at risk for academic and social problems, as well as poor health and well-being.
Among the many ways that we at Catholic Charities attempt to help children do well in their fight against poverty is mentoring. Research has shown that when children have a relationship with even one positive adult role model -- a person with whom they identify and from whom they gather support -- they are able to develop the resilience to succeed despite the odds and the ability to respond and rebound to life's adversities.
As National Mentoring Month, January is a time to recognize all the ways in which mentoring positively impacts our children and ultimately betters our communities.
Our mentoring programs work to match young people with caring adults who commit two hours a week over the course of a year to a young person. Well supported by our staff, mentors have been making a real difference in the lives of their mentees. Improved attitudes about school have led to better grades and standardized test scores, with 100 percent of our senior mentees graduating from high school and enrolling in college. Family and peer relationships have also improved and our mentees have developed the refusal skills so necessary to avoid substance use.
As we think about the many successes and the continuing challenges we face in the War on Poverty, we are so grateful to each of our mentors. The support they provide to their mentee makes it possible for that child to escape a less than hopeful future and is a big help in the fight against poverty. If you have made a New Year's Resolution (or maybe have yet to choose one) that is in keeping with Pope Francis' call for us to care compassionately for one another, perhaps you would consider being a mentor. If you are interested in learning more about our mentoring programs, please go to www.ccab.org.
Deborah Kincade Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.