Zach Marvel’s balloon bug eyes — a hat made by a clown at the Stepping Stones mentoring program’s Saturday Christmas party — were akin to his own as he spoke to his new mentor from underneath.
"He’s kind of like a big brother to me," the 11-year-old Phoenix boy said of his Chandler mentor, Kelly Jordan.
Jordan is who the Scottsdale-based Stepping Stones, a program within the Mental Health Association of Arizona, is searching far and wide for: Male mentors for atrisk, homeless or formerly homeless children.
"This guy is great," said Jordan, 40, who beamed as they ate pizza at the party, hosted by the program and paid for by mentors. "He’s like the kid on ‘Home Alone’ — energetic, bright.
"I’m at a stage in my life it’s time to start doing something useful, not just playing around all the time," he said.
Debbie Wellner, program coordinator, said with about 50 mentors now for all the needy children in the area, anyone can come and brighten the life of a child. All that is required is a background check and commitment to spend one hour a week with a child for at least a year.
But while anyone can volunteer, especially needed are male and bilingual volunteers, who are rare despite the high volume of boys eagerly looking for "big brothers" to go to the movies or park with, or to just talk, explained Dan Crowley of Paradise Valley, a mentor who also is a stakeholder in the Social Venture Partners, which gives the program $35,000 a year.
"Because the children are at homeless shelters, they are in a different situation than children in normal, everyday homes," Wellner said. "A lot of children know school life, but don’t really get out to see the rest of the world."
About 100 children, parents and mentors gathered at the Burton Barr Library in Phoenix to receive presents, food baskets, oral hygiene products and lunch.
Jessica Flores, 9, who received Saturday tennis shoes, a purse and hair accessories, is among the children waiting for mentors.
"It’s fun, a lot of happy moments," she said.
Jessica’s mother, Krisha Brinson, watched as her other children Vanessa, Joey and Alex, opened their gifts.
"We’ve been waiting three years for mentors," she said.
Amber Principe, 21, a senior broadcast major at Arizona State University, said she’s seen her 6-year-old "little sister" grow by leaps and bounds as she slowly tore apart her shy shell with the one-on-one attention.
"It’s very rewarding when you can bring stability to a situation very unstable and provide guidance, support and positive reinforcement," said Rich Kaplan, a Scottsdale stock broker, who is also a mentor.
Jennifer Fleming, a mother of four children, said she’s seen the rewards.
"My kids were trying to pick fights, had low selfesteem," she said. "This year they all have mentors and they’ve grown up a lot, get better grades and are in less fights."
To become a mentor
Contact Stepping Stones at (480) 994-4407 Ext. 30 or visit
Training is offered monthly. Online volunteer forms also are available. More mentoring information is available at www.azmentors.org.