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Blood may be thicker than water, but friendship can surely be just as powerful a force as family. You choose your friends, after all, so a relationship built on trust and mutual appreciation has a lot going for it right from the start.
At least that's what Nicole Hancock and Keeana Thompson are hoping for. In their case, what began as friendly respect has already grown into something more precious and exciting - a caring mentorship through City of Dreams.
Nicole and Keeana are midway through a two-year mentoring program run by the San Francisco-based organization, which helps children in public housing communities expand their perspective in life through "one-on-one" mentorships.
As they enter into their teenage years, children like Keeana who are raised in the projects (and, increasingly, girls in particular) are at risk for a wide variety of social problems like unplanned pregnancy, gang membership, low self-esteem, and criminal activity. Fortunately, studies show that mentorships based on mutual commitment within a long-term structure can be an effective response.
One-on-one mentorships like those at City of Dreams give participants the chance to choose partners they may already feel a strong attachment for, something both Nicole and Keeana say they loved about their program.
Her first time at City of Dreams, Nicole says she felt an immediate connection with nearly all the kids - but especially with Keeana. When founder Marty Higgins approached her about the one-on-one mentor program, she told him she thought Keeana would be a great person to work with. "But only if she felt the same way."
Higgins brought the idea to Keeana and it turns out the feeling was mutual.
Today the girls join with other City of Dreams pairs for group activities that lead to new experiences for both. Keeana loved the ski trip, for example, and can't wait until next year. The girls have promised each other they'd learn to snowboard together.
For her part Nicole says she's learned to be a better listener, and to be more sensitive and more patient. Ironically, these are all lessons that City of Dreams tries to impart to its mentees. Nicole laughs about this: "We may even get more out of volunteering!"
Now, with a year left in the program, Nicole is looking ahead to the next phase in her relationship with Keeana.
"The mentorship is just the beginning of a lasting relationship for us," she said. "Keeana's future is full of possibility and I hope to be a part of that."