Mentor, youths 'turned into a big ol' family'
BY MIKE AVERILL World Staff Writer
Friday, January 28, 2011
1/28/11 at 6:00 AM
With his father in prison, Rae'Qjuan Moses needed a positive adult male role model.
His mother turned to Youth Services of Tulsa and its North Tulsa Youth mentoring program, through which Rae'Qjuan was introduced to Winfred Kopczynski Jr., who likes to be called "Wink."
Kopczynski has been working with Rae'Qjuan, 12, since April. Rae'Qjuan started bringing his brother Quarrahn, 13, and cousin Wesley Simmons to his meetings with Kopczynski last summer.
"I introduced him to those two and they started coming and we turned into a big ol' family," Rae'Qjuan said. "I wanted them to come, too, so they wouldn't be bored and because I love them."
The boys meet each week at Kopczynski's office, where they work on math, talk about their problems and have lunch. Sometimes they'll just hang out.
Kopczynski said, "When I moved to Tulsa I always wanted to go to the zoo, the Air and Space Museum, the aquarium.
"Once I got together with these guys, I got to do all that. These guys are my tour guides around Tulsa."
The North Tulsa Youth program identifies at-risk youths in gang-infested neighborhoods and matches them with mentors. It helps them build protective skills and find alternatives to gangs.
The program has two components. One involves working with kids who are at risk of becoming involved with gangs and pairing them with adults who will be a positive influence, said David Grewe, the agency's assistant director.
"They become a resource to that young person, and the goal is that they will see alternatives to gang involvement and work toward getting an education, getting employment and getting out of poverty," he said.
The other component is called Mentoring the Children of Prisoners. It matches an adult with a child whose parent is behind bars.
"The idea is for them to develop supportive relations that will last a minimum of one year," Grewe said. "The idea is for the young person to understand that they have a choice other than following the path of incarceration."
Both programs are essentially the same, but the Children of Prisoners program receives some federal funding.
"All it is," Grewe said, "is for that adult to give some unconditional regard and acceptance to that young person, to model that ... you don't have to follow a path that is detrimental."
At present, the programs have a total of 49 clients with 31 mentors. Most of the clients live in north Tulsa.
"He's like an older brother to me," Rae'Qjuan said of Kopczynski. "We hang out and do stuff I never really got to do before. And I'm getting out of the house."
Kopczynski entered the program by answering a newspaper advertisement looking for mentors.
"If they get nothing else from me, I hope they can see their own potential and that if they work hard and have goals they will succeed," he said.
He wants to stay close to the boys as they go through high school and graduate on to a secondary education, he said.
Rae'Qjuan told him, "I want to be an engineer like you." Kopczynski is a petroleum engineer and part owner of New Gulf Energy.
Grewe said the program provides an opportunity and an anchor to the future to a lot of young boys who don't have a father figure.
"This gives them an adult male role model and provides a sense of stability, a person who can offer some support and guidance on life issues and things the kids are going through," he said.
Rae'Qjuan said he's found more than a mentor in Kopczynski.
"I've found a friend. I can talk to him when I need with anything," he said.
"I want to keep doing this for a while. I don't think of him as my mentor. I think of him as my friend."
"It's definitely a two-way street. I've got three buddies for life," he said.
For more information about the North Tulsa Youth mentoring program call Eddie Evans at 382-4484.
Original Print Headline: 'Like an older brother to me'
Mike Averill 581-8489
Winfred Kopczynski Jr. offers math instruction to Rae'Qjuan Moses (left) at his office. Kopczynski became Rae'Qjuan's mentor through Youth Services of Tulsa's North Tulsa Youth mentoring program. ADAM WISNESKI/Tulsa World
Winfred Kopczynski quizzes Rae'Qjuan Moses (right) on his math problems at Kopczynski's office. Kopczynski is Rae'Qjuan's mentor in a program started by Youth Services of Tulsa. ADAM WISNESKI/Tulsa World