Initially a business concept, then a feminist one, now it's an educational one.
Mentoring -- in which someone who has made it helps along someone who hasn't -- suddenly has become hot among educators and others trying to solve high drop-out rates among inner city youth.
Mentoring pairs successful members of the community with schoolchildren deemed "at risk" for failing school or falling prey to the crime, drugs or teen pregnancies that pock their neighborhoods.
The idea has drawn much enthusiasm, and most major cities have some sort of mentoring program.
"The question is, 'What can make a difference in changing a young person's life process?'" said Kalman "Buzzy" Hettleman, executive director of the Baltimore Mentoring Institute, the parent organization of RAISE. "We don't know, but maybe mentoring can do it."
RAISE, now in its third year, has drawn much support in Baltimore -- with financial support from foundations and personal support from business and community leaders, who have volunteered as mentors.
The Baltimore program is attracting attention elsewhere as well.
"From RAISE, we'll find out if mentoring will work for high risk kids," said Marc Freedman, a senior associate with Public/Private Ventures, a think tank that studies programs for disadvantaged youth.
"People just knew at this gut level that these kids need attention," he said. "Mentoring seems like a step in the right direction."
Mr. Freedman is currently working on a book about mentoring programs, which will focus on RAISE and four other projects nationally.
"I think RAISE is a good program in part because it has a lot of resources," said Mr. Freedman, whose organization is based in Philadelphia. "A lot of the other programs try to do mentoring on the cheap.
"Everybody has these fond memories of mentors, but it's really tough to do. As a consequence, programs tend not to provide enough support and care to make stuff happen," said Mr. Freedman. "But RAISE has the potential, relative to others across the country, because they have the infrastructure, they have the staff."
RAISE, which began with middle school students but now includes those as young as second-graders, has 15 paid staff members. They coordinate various RAISE programs that reach out to nearly 700 children in 13 core schools.
What also separates RAISE from other programs, Mr. Freedman said, is "they really are working with high-risk students. The others are usually working with B and C students... RAISE is one of the few targeting kids really on the edge."