Cynric Whitaker didn't think he had what it took to be a mentor.
Mentors have to be wise professionals, he thought. They have to be incredibly intelligent and wealthy. They have to know everything and be perfect.
But a conversation the 40-year-old had with a friend changed his mind about volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“I might not have it all figured out,” Whitaker said. “But compared to someone who has no idea about what life might be like, like me from 30 years ago, I might know enough to get them going in the right direction.”
Clearing misconceptions people have about mentoring is the goal of a new campaign announced Wednesday by the Midlands Mentoring Partnership.
The group of 11 mentoring organizations is spending $20,000 on a citywide mentor recruiting campaign that will place public service announcements on television and put up about 14 billboards around Omaha. Mayor Jean Stothert also proclaimed August as mentoring month to help the campaign.
The partnership aims to recruit 500 new mentors by the end of October, said Deborah Neary, executive director.
Neary said there are 30,000 young people in Omaha but only 3,000 mentors. She wants to narrow that gap.
No other city has had mentoring agencies pool their resources to try to recruit mentors on this scale before, Neary said.
“Not only is this going to be a game changer in our community,” Neary said, “it can become a template for other cities to follow.”
The Midlands Mentoring Partnership won't be immediately affected by plans announced this week by Building Brighter Futures that it will narrow its focus — a focus that won't include the daily operations of mentoring.
Midlands Mentoring Partnership has three years remaining on a five-year financial commitment from the philanthropy that provides a significant portion of funding, Neary said.
In 2011, the first year of the five-year commitment, Building Brighter Futures contributed $631,230, according to the philanthropy's tax forms.
Neary said the philanthropy still is focusing on data collection, which Midlands Mentoring Partnership also works on.
“We have always shared the same goals regarding quality standards,” Neary said. “And that doesn't change.”