Antonio Riley says his relationship with mentor Al Lacy “showed me another side of life.” Photo courtesy Al and Beverley Lacy
Beverley and Al Lacy aren't parents, but they could sure fool onlookers. Al, 66, and Beverley, 65, each have been mentoring children for the last dozen years. The Lacys were trained by Virginia Mentoring Partnership (VMP), which celebrates its 20-year anniversary this month. A nonprofit organization founded in 1993, VMP provides training and assistance to mentors and mentoring programs around Virginia. It also provides support to school districts and individual schools that house mentoring/tutoring programs, benefiting an estimated 35,000 youths since its inception.
"We look at it as youth intervention strategy," says Miriam Davidow, director of strategic services at VMP ( vamentoring.org ), which will recognize outstanding mentors and mentoring programs during its annual gathering March 14 at the Science Museum of Virginia. "Becoming a mentor ... takes minimum training, and the mentor can use skills they already have. "
As a former history teacher at Clover Hill and Monacan high schools, Beverley Lacy was a natural. Al, who managed Lacy Auto Parts, had reservations, especially since the couple, now married 42 years, had no children.
"We were members of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in 2001," Beverley explains. "The church adopted Woodville Elementary School, offering our members the chance to become tutors through the Micah Initiative. Each tutor's goal was to spend time with a child who needed to read on grade level by the third grade."
"I committed to spending 45 minutes weekly, just during summer school, with Antonio Riley, a 6-year-old kindergartener," Al says. "We hit it off immediately." Antonio is now 18, and the mentoring continues.
"When we started, he didn't even know the alphabet, so I bought this wooden puzzle with the alphabet stamped on the blocks. It was a struggle for him, until one day he nailed every one of them, threw out his chest and said, ‘Told you I could do that. I'm going to first grade,' " Al recalls with a laugh.
"Antonio had experienced incredible trauma. His mother was murdered when he was about 5," Al continues. "His father has been in prison since I've known him. He and two brothers and a sister live with their grandmother, who has struggled mightily to hold them together. When he was about 11, his brother was hit by a car when they were riding bicycles. Antonio watched him die in the street."
Now, Antonio walks about three blocks from Thomas Jefferson High School to the Lacys' home several times a week, and he and Al work on college applications. He plans to study business after he graduates in May.
Antonio credits Al Lacy with his success. "Because of him, I was able to stay out of trouble and in school. I've had a lot of hardships in my life. He has been there every time. I was raised in the projects, but he showed me another side of life, like taking me to the Picasso exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts." He adds, "All mentors have my respect. When someone takes time out of their personal life to be with a child, that's important. That says a whole lot about a person."
Beverley was paired with Christina Smith-Mabry, then a first-grader. When Christina was 3, her mother, who had a substance abuse problem, left the girl and three siblings with a local family and gave up parental rights.
"Christina's family probably moved six times while she was in first grade," Beverley says. "I lost her at Christmas, finally locating her in a hotel where Social Services had placed them. By the third grade, she was reading on grade level, but I just couldn't leave her. She needed an advocate terribly."
Beverley arranged for Christina's first visit to a primary care physician and her first dental visit (eventually including braces), and she helped the family move into public housing. Beverley also arranged opportunities for Christina to meet African-American role models, such as then-Del. Viola Baskerville, who gave her a tour of the General Assembly.
"After Child Protective Services stepped in, I continued with Christina through the social service system, court appearances and into foster care," Beverley explains. "In the fourth grade, I promised her that if she finished high school and didn't get pregnant, I would take her to Italy as a reward, since Al and I visit Italy every year." After her graduation from Manchester High School last June, Christina toured Italy, which she describes as "amazing."
She eventually was adopted at age 18 by her third foster parent. Now 19, she works part time at Walmart, attends John Tyler Community College and plans to study criminal justice at Virginia Commonwealth University.
"I wouldn't be where I am today without her," Christina says of Beverley. "She helped me learn to trust others and taught me how to love. I want to show that kind of love to my children."
VMP's Davidow reflects on the impact the Lacys have had on the lives of their mentees. "It's remarkable," she says, "and it didn't cost the state anything."
©Nancy Wright Beasley 2013. All rights reserve d.