Mentor program looks to recruit firefighter role models

Posted 3/16/23

Terry DiPetrillo, director of the Warwick Water Division, is back in elementary school three times a week. He isn’t teaching or standing up in front of a class. In fact, he’s taking three …

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Mentor program looks to recruit firefighter role models


Terry DiPetrillo, director of the Warwick Water Division, is back in elementary school three times a week. He isn’t teaching or standing up in front of a class. In fact, he’s taking three boys out of class for an hour a week in a program that has proven to change lives and improve student attendance.

Thursday afternoon DiPetrillo shared the satisfaction of being a mentor with a group of firefighters in an effort to get them to become mentors as part of the Mentor RI program. The Warwick Fire Department has a history of being involved with the program dating back at least 15 years.  At one time before climbing the department ranks, Assistant Fire Chief Brian Cobb served as a mentor for a student at the John Greene School, which is now closed. In recent times, the department ceased allowing firefighters to leave their jobs one hour a week to serve as student mentors.

That’s changed

Cobb was alongside DiPetrillo in the EOC – Emergency Operations Center- in station one as LA  Busteed, and Sandy Letourneau of the mentor program, outlined what the volunteer commitment entails and how the program works.

“It’s a one-on-one thing;  you’d serve as a positive role model,” Cobb told the men .

 DiPetrillo described the experience as “fun,” saying one of the first things he does is to find what his mentee is interested in, whether it’s sports, fishing, crafts, so they have something to talk about.

Cobb explained fire companies would be matched with nearby schools. For example the station on Commonwealth Avenue could be paired with Scott School. On mentor day, an engine from the station with three firefighters would leave the station for the school where the three firefighters would be paired with their mentees for an hour. In the event of a call during that period the station on Cowesett Road or Station 1 in Apponaug would cover the run unless it was a major incident in which case the firefighters would break off their mentorship and head to the scene directly from the school.

Busteed, community engagement manager, asked the handful of firefighters attending to think of mentors in their lives and to share that with the group. She suggested it could have been a sibling, a teacher or a friend. No one said anything. But there were questions as to how this could work when the firefighter work schedule doesn’t make it possible to set aside the same day every week. Letourneau, program coordinator, said she could work around that as long as there was sufficient notice to let the student and the school know.

Also, firefighters inquired how students are selected for the program and whether mentors are in contact with parents.  Teachers and principals often identify students they believe would benefit from having a mentor. On occasion parents request to have their child matched with a mentor.

Busteed said potential mentors must pass a background check and are given two hours of training.  There is no required duration of a mentorship.  Some pairings may not “click” either for the mentor or the mentee, although that is infrequent. In other cases, mentors have stayed on through secondary school and there are examples where they have stayed on after high school graduation even though that’s not part of the Mentor RI program. Some mentors return year after year. Bill Connors and Elaine Belvin are two of them.  There have even been cases where former mentees return to become mentors after completing post secondary education. Christina Markrush is one of them.  Belvin was her mentor throughout Warwick schools. Markrush is now mentoring students at Veterans Middle School and Robertson Elementary.

DiPetrillo suggested the firefighters would have no difficulty in establishing relationships with the kids. The fact they would be arriving in a fire truck would make for an instant hit. “They’re going to love it,” he said.

Letourneau said 30 to 40 students are waiting to be paired with a mentor with an especially high demand coming from Norwood and Oakland Beach Schools.  Overall in Warwick, 82 students are paired with mentors. Many mentors have more than one mentee.

A former teacher and new to the program, Letourneau couldn’t say whether the pandemic has impacted the demand for mentors.  She said online learning has detrimentally affected student socialization, observing that in some cases children didn’t get to meet their teachers or peers in person when starting school.

Mentor RI President and CEO Joe-Ann Schofield said Monday the pandemic dealt the program a serious blow.

“This is rebuilding after Covid,” she said. Thursday’s appeal is one of 12 such presentations Busteed and Letourneau will make to firefighters in the coming weeks.  It’s resonating. Letourneau said Monday two firefighters had signed up 

Those interested in considering being a mentor and learning more about the program can go to the Mentor RI website or call 401-732-7700.

mentor, firefighters


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