Volunteers share 'the real world'

Glenn Brayman knows a lot about engines. He started tinkering with them when he was 12 and later made his fortune in the truck business. But on a recent occasion, when some partly disassembled engines sat in the middle of a trailer waiting to be put back together, he did nothing.

Instead, he watched as two girls, both 10, reassembled the camshafts, adjusted the crankshafts, and worked the torque wrenches.

Mr. Brayman volunteered with nine unlikely young mechanics this summer, who stripped down four small engines and put them back together as part of an apprenticeship program.

"I wanted to help give low- to moderate-income kids access to an industry that they may not have thought possible [as a career option]," says Brayman, founder of GMB Youth Motorsports, which sponsored the mechanical workshop at a Boston public school.

The opportunity to learn more about engineering was organized by Citizen Schools, a nonprofit organization that links professionals in the Boston area with 9- to 14-year-olds for hands-on, career-related projects throughout the year.

Volunteers have clamored to become a part of the Citizen Schools team, with its "it takes a village" ethos. The program started with about 40 volunteers four years ago and has expanded to more than 1,500.

"Many professionals are realizing they need to contribute more to the education of young people," says Citizen Schools president Eric Schwarz.

The group offers apprenticeships at 10 Boston schools for 10 weeks after school during the academic year and six weeks in the summer. Parents, community leaders, and volunteers, and a sizable staff, help keep Citizen Schools running smoothly.

More than 150 professionals participated in this year's summer program. Students were able to choose from nearly 80 fields, including law, business, Web design, and cooking.

Weekly commitment

Citizen "teachers" generally volunteer five hours a week. But Brayman, a manager at Boston Water and Sewer, finds time to schedule in more than 20 hours.

"I strongly think every adult has an obligation to share their talent with young people," he says.

Brayman started to look for more meaning in his work a few years ago. It occurred to him to provide children with exposure to a career path at an early age. He also wanted a project he could work on with his son. So the father-and-son team pulled together funding, garnered equipment, recruited certified master mechanics - and soon had nine young charges learning about engineering.

Volunteers sometimes come to the program from Boston's large academic community. Maria Ballestueros, a Fulbright scholar from Spain, decided she wanted more out of her US experience after a year dedicated to an MBA program at Boston University. She taught the computer program Power Point to children this summer, who in turn shared their newly acquired skills with BU graduate students.

She volunteered eight hours a week - in between a job and classes of her own - because she realized it was time to "see out of the box." "I just thought I should be involved with something else, something larger than myself," she says.

Professionals learn too

Often the professionals learn along with their students. Jamey Tesler and several others from the law firm Hale and Dorr prepared their apprentices for a mock trial before a federal judge and a large audience.

It was the kind of sweaty-palm opportunity that Mr. Tesler, just one year out of law school, hadn't even had yet. He admits he was a little nervous on the day of his students' debut. But when they "conducted their best-ever mock trial with reams of confidence," he gained some self-confidence for his own mock trial in front of the same crowd a few weeks later.

Now Tesler says he occasionally gets calls and faxes from his students asking what they can do to learn more.

"They're thirsty for knowledge," he points out, saying that schools don't provide many students with all the answers they're looking for. "I think it takes a community effort to do that."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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