Richard Washington volunteers with the RSVP MentorCHIP program, which offers site-based mentoring with an academic and asset-building focus to build the academic confidence and social skills of children ages 6–16 whose parents are incarcerated. Through RSVP partner the I Have a Dream Foundation, Richard mentors 1st through 3rd grade boys at a public school in his Harlem neighborhood.
"I help these young guys to focus on their homework and get it done. When I get somebody to do their homework—to me that’s success. Because they feel good about themselves after they do it. And they need to know that they can achieve. These little guys are very strong, but they are dealing with a lot. There’s one child who wouldn’t look at me or listen. He was just all over the place. Through working with him over time I discovered that he’s great at math. He knows all the answers!
These children are really smart, and each one has something special. Maybe their intelligence hasn’t been discovered yet, or they haven’t been able to express it, or they’re holding back. I have learned to wait, and let them go through their stuff. I try to be a positive role model. I say, ‘You can do this. Why hold yourself back?’
School is key to a better future. Volunteering through RSVP is a rewarding experience and I think I do make a difference in these kids’ lives. Children need a voice, and somebody to listen. When I walk into the lunchroom everybody says ‘Mr. Washington, Mr. Washington, can you work with me today?’ That’s a great feeling."