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“John was one of those kids that was on the fence,” Frank Hernandez tells TakePart of his 13-year-old mentee.

Before they met, John was getting into fights and failing in school. He had been suspended a few times, and John’s mother, Bonita, was fielding daily calls from teachers about her son’s behavior.

Bonita learned that her boy’s Oregon school works with a mentoring program called Citizens for Safe Schools. Hoping for change, she put her son on the mentee list. Over a year went by. John had not received a match.

Finally, Frank came along, and it was just in time.

The two have been paired for a year now, and Bonita says John has “come a long way and feels like a different person.”

John says he is comfortable talking to Frank. From the moment they met, he knew his mentor was “pretty cool.”

Frank has opened up a new world to John. They go skiing, snowshoeing, bike riding and bowling. Thanks to Frank and Citizens for Safe Schools, John is even taking martial arts lessons.

Last August, Frank remembers, they attended a Korean martial arts exhibition with their mentoring program.
“It was one of those things that really clicked with John,” Frank says. He and the mentoring program made arrangements with the owner of the martial arts studio, and John is now training and is loving it.

His mom says, “He has training three days a week and is committed to it. He’s already earned two stripes on his first belt.”

Since he’s been taking martial arts, John feels he is not as aggressive as he used to be. His mother isn’t fielding daily calls from school anymore.

And, Bonita adds, his grades are much better. “He’s carrying a 3.3 average instead of straight Fs.”

Frank’s life has been impacted just as deeply as John’s. He says, “There’s a lot of satisfaction when there is a success story like this. It’s a really good feeling.”

Frank is not only an all-star mentor; for the past six years, the father to four has been a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) standing up for the well-being of foster kids. He and his wife are also regular volunteers at the local food bank.