Mentoring program makes a difference one child at a time

Philadelphia Inquirer/Kevin Riordan
Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Hummer got Da'Quan Johnson's attention.

So did the good job, nice home, and loving family of his mentor, Tyrone Baker Jr.

"I never really had anybody to guide me," says Johnson, who was a troubled East Camden middle school student when Baker took him under his wing in 2008.

Seven years later, Johnson - having graduated last spring from Camden County Technical School - is studying criminal justice at the Camden campus of Camden County College, where he earned a 3.0 his first semester.

Johnson, 18, also holds down two part-time jobs. He hopes to become a police officer in the city. And he continues seeing his mentor regularly.

"He's like a family member," says Baker, 45, a Camden Fire Department captain and a married father of two. "He's a good kid."

This is music to the ears of Wren Ingram, mentoring coordinator at the Center for Family Services in Camden.

"This is exactly why I do this," says the longtime Fairview resident, a mentor herself. "Change in Camden is going to happen one child at a time."

I'm inside the Fire Department's administration building at Third and Federal, where Johnson often stops by after class to see Baker. They are among 36 pairs of mentors and mentees matched up by the center; an additional 50 young people are on a waiting list.

"I could have used a mentor myself when I was young in Camden," says Baker, who grew up in the city's Centerville neighborhood. "I never had a positive male influence."

"I didn't have anybody like that either," says Johnson. "You need somebody to push you."

The two share a camaraderie built on frankness as well as fondness.

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