CLEVELAND — For at-risk youth, having a mentor can help them beat the odds.

Having a caring adult in their corner, to cheer them on and show them how to navigate the odds, has been shown to make a real difference.

For Jessica Walters, this is a fact that she knows well. At age 8, she was matched with a Big Sister through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

Her Big Sister Deborah Jackson helped Walters stay focused during her early years. And the relationship continued, even after Walters became an adult: Her Big Sister continued to advise her as Walters completed college and made a career in the nonprofit sector.

And recently, Walters stepped into a new, and very fitting role. She was named president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cleveland.

Having a Big Sister had an extraordinary impact on her life, she says. “It gave me perspective and helped me see the world in a different way.”

January is National Mentoring Month, and WKYC is spotlighting the powerful role that mentors play in the lives of youths.

Walters is featured in a commercial highlighting local mentees that will air on WKYC for the rest of the month.

Also depicted in the commercial is Constance Sanders, a Cleveland student who was matched with a mentor through the True2U program three years ago. She is now in 11th grade at John Hay Early College and credits mentor Matt Dudas with helping her become more comfortable with public speaking.

National Mentoring Month is an annual campaign, launched four years ago by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

If you’d like to learn more about mentoring in Northeast Ohio, there are many organizations looking for volunteers. Here is a sample:   

Big Brothers Big Sisters: Has a network of agencies in Cuyahoga, Lake, Lorain and Summit counties which matches children with caring mentors. More information at

Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s True2U program: After receiving training, volunteers become part of a small advisory group that meets with eighth graders at Cleveland schools nine times a year. Program helps students set goals and prepare for the transition to high school.

College Now of Greater Cleveland: Via an online platform, mentors communicate monthly and provide advice to college students, most of whom are first in their families to attend college.  Volunteers must be college graduates and make a four-year commitment. Learn more at

Community of Hope: A unique mentoring model, this program seeks community volunteers to meet weekly and form a “board of directors” to advise a youth aged 18 to 27 who has aged out of foster care. More info at