Two weeks ago, as Philadelphia's school year came to an end, I began to think of summer's contradictions. While festivals and block parties pump life into our neighborhoods, and our rivers are busy with recreation, our streets are too often the setting for senseless violence.

Philadelphia Police Department statistics say that July, with an average of more than 30 murders annually, has been Philadelphia's deadliest month over the last decade. But summer doesn't have to be deadly for young people if adults step in to provide guidance.

Supporting mentorship programs

I believe in the power of mentoring. It can be more than life changing. It can be life saving. That's why the National CARES Mentoring Movement, a program that targets African American youth, must be supported.

Last year, nearly 80 percent of Philadelphia's homicide victims were black, 87.6 percent were male and 38.9 percent were under the age of 25. Young people can avoid becoming statistics, however, and strong adult guidance can help them to do so.

"None of the forces claiming our children's lives are more important than commitment and love," writes National CARES Mentoring Movement founder and former Essence magazine editor Susan L. Taylor in explaining the power of mentoring.

That power is what drew local board chairs Andrea Lawful-Trainer and Alex Peay to work with Taylor to launch the program's Southeast Pennsylvania CARES Affiliate Circle (SEPA) in partnership with the United Way.

"Susan Taylor reached out to me because we were already mentoring young people here in Pennsylvania and we were getting good results," said Lawful-Trainer, who works with young people in Abington High School. "When we met and she described her vision of locating and placing mentors with the neediest, underserved population of African American youth, and I was immediately sold."

Peay, who runs a non-profit called Rising Sons that works to help young men achieve, said it's crucial for mentors to become involved with young men.

One way or another, he said, someone is going to step in to guide them. But what will that guidance look like?

"The mentors who have been teaching young people how to sell drugs and shoot people will continue to prevail if we don't do something," Peay said. "And their mentees will later become mentors for the next generation."

Mentors for boys and girls

Stepping up to help young women is just as important, said Lawful-Trainer. And through SEPA, they are looking to mentor young people in untraditional ways.

"Our team fully embraces the group mentoring concept," she said. "We have aligned ourselves with other organizations that see the value of this work.

"It is exciting as we have seen young people who were mentored in group settings that have gone on to do great things. Our aim is to locate the untraditional mentors and utilize their skills. That could be a local barber, coach, or even a deacon, to name a few."

The hope is that through the mentoring program, young people will not only avoid violence, but will go on to achieve greatness, like so many of our region's youth have already done with the support of caring adults.

West Philly High's EVX team was featured on Frontline after their impressive run at the 2010 Progressive Automotive X Prize competition, where they built energy-efficient cars. Groups like the Dollar Boyz, founded by Tyree Dumas, use dance to promote positive messages for young people.

The National CARES Mentoring Movement, through its Southeast Pennsylvania CARES Affiliate Circle, is looking to do even more with the young people in our region. The price of doing nothing is too great.

"The consequences will be grim if those of us in the mentoring space fail to collaborate with each other to serve our youth," said Lawful-Trainer. "Thankfully, we already have mentors who are willing and able to step forward to give one hour per week to mentor these youngsters in Philadelphia, Montgomery and Bucks Counties. We hope that many more will step up."

For more information about the National CARES Mentoring Movement, or to volunteer in the Philadelphia area, go to www.caresmentoring.org.