Cory T. Sumpter has done a lot of growing up since he joined the nationally recognized St. John Baptist Church Man-to-Man Mentoring Program in Columbia.
The 18-year-old River Hill High School graduate recalled being short-tempered as a youngster, but he has learned how to handle difficult situations in a mature manner.
He credits sound advice from his mentor, Lyle Jones, a Baltimore attorney, with helping him develop into a confident person.
"I joined the program back when I was 12 ... and he has been very genuine," Sumpter said. "I'm a person who likes to ask a lot of questions, and he has been there to answer them."
The feelings are mutual on Jones' part.
"The most rewarding part has been seeing how he has matured and grown up," Jones said. "He has become self-confident."
The church's mentor program began in 1992 after members of the congregation became concerned about the high number of black males in the county with low academic achievement and who were living in households headed by single women.
Over the years, the program received funding to expand its offerings, including field trips, cultural activities and additional staff.
But as funding has decreased in recent years, the program has scaled back its operation while trying to maintain quality.
Next school year, the program will be funded by grants through a 21st Century Community Learning Center "Bridges Over Wilde Lake" program and the Howard County Department of Citizen Services.
The current funding supports 12 matches with a mentor, and program coordinator Carolyn Gayle said there are three openings for next school year.
Since the program's inception, about 60 matches have been made between mentors and boys, Gayle said. The program is open to ages 9 to 17. Mentors have to be at least 25, provide references and pass a background check.
A core group of 11 church members operate the program, which focuses on academic enrichment, values education, career awareness, parental involvement, cultural awareness, social and recreational activities, community service and recognition events.
Youth participants are recruited through partnerships with local schools and the church. The adult mentors are found through the church, local advertisements and business partnerships.
"This is part of our Evangelism and Outreach Ministry," Gayle said. "As Christians, we are called to reach out, and what better way to serve our community than to help out those who need it."
Former participants have gone on to enroll in college and the military, among other achievements.
Former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton took note of the program at a White House ceremony during the 1998-99 school year.
The following school year, then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend presented the program with the Excellent in Mentoring 2000 award from the state Mentoring Resource Center.
Last school year, President Bush invited representatives of the program to the White House to attend a meeting on mentoring.
The church sponsors its own annual recognition ceremony and awards college scholarships. At last month's ceremony, three graduating participants were awarded scholarships totaling $1,000.
"Our mentees have become more confident, and our mentors are enriched by what they're seeing develop in their mentees," Gayle said.
Sumpter is a standout in the program.
The football player was one of this year's scholarship recipients and is headed to Shaw University in North Carolina to major in communication. He also co-founded a peace organization, maintained high grades and volunteered with various community-based organizations.
Although participants don't have to belong to St. John Baptist Church or attend a church to join the program, Christian values are stressed.
"This program has a lot of spiritual positiveness," Sumpter said.
Jones said the program is definitely worth his time.
"I understand the importance of giving back and being a friend to a young man ... who needed a [male mentor]," he said.
For more information about the Man-to-Man Mentoring Program, call 301-596-5571.