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Arlington Police Launch Mentoring Program for Girls

Thursday, Arlington Police will embark on their latest mission — trying to empower girls to reach their full potential.

For the last two years, the department has run a mentoring program for boys at Workman Junior High, pairing at-risk students with a male officer mentor. This year, they're expanding that "Mentoring Arlington Youth", or MAY Program, to include girls and female officer / teacher mentors.

"When we started the MAY Program for the guys, I knew that we needed one for the girls," said Yolonda Burris, a teacher at Workman and a MAY Program mentor. "It was a Godsend when we got it. We were so excited."

Burris grew up in East Arlington and says she understands firsthand the challenges many kids from that area face — particularly when it comes to their socioeconomic status. It's why she decided to become a MAY Program mentor.

"I would like them to just understand that there are options," said Burris. "A lot of times they don't understand that they can go to Collegiate High School here or the Career Technical High School or college. And we want them to understand what their opportunities are outside of Workman by giving them that confidence here."

The ten girls selected to participate in the MAY Program will meet once a week with their mentors for the entire school year. Together, they'll focus heavily on personal development and leadership.

"Our first goal is to bond with those kids," said Sergeant VaNessa Harrison, a spokesperson for the Arlington Police Department and one of the MAY Program mentors. "We'll do things like create a vision board and talk about their future. What do they want to be when they grow up and how we can help them realize those goals? That will include visits to colleges and organizing career days."

Beyond that, Harrison says they hope the students develop positive impressions of police officers — and that the officers come away with a better understanding of how these kids see the world, so they can help create a better community for them.

"As a mother myself, I really see how impactful a mentor can be," said Harrison. "Parents have a different role than another adult that may be able to give some guidance or introduce suggestions. It's a little different coming from an adult mentor. We think having a mentoring program is important to kids who may not have all the support that they need."

Currently, the MAY Program is only offered at Workman. Harrison says the ultimate goal is to offer it at other schools as well.

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