Officer Michael Gould prefers to leave his uniform at home for his weekly iC.A.R.E. in-school mentoring session. It can be distracting for middle-schoolers, and besides, he doesn’t want his mentees, Dameire and Dazaun, to be embarrassed by being called to meet a cop in their school’s front office.
However, if Dameire and Dazaun are intimidated by their police officer mentor, it doesn’t show. Like most twin brothers, they have very different personalities, but even the shyer Dameire breaks into a smile with some gentle prodding from Gould. Alongside the occasional joke, Gould asks about how the twins’ week has been, how they are doing in school. And then, most importantly, he listens.
“They’ve got folks that love them. That’s obvious,” says Gould. But he also recognizes that, like most kids, they could use the presence of another caring adult – someone not related to them – who will listen without judgment to what they have to say.
Gould remembers what relationships like that meant to him when he was a young man. “My father died when I was thirteen,” says Gould. “He was my hero. When he died, I’ll never forget going into a closet and closing the door, just feeling lost. My hero was gone.” Growing up after that, he was fortunate to have adults in his life – unofficial mentors – who served as role models for him over the years.
That’s what he wants to be for Dameire and Dazaun. “I’m not trying to be their father,” says Gould. Instead, he just wants to help them become the best that they can be. After all, he says, that’s what mentoring is all about.
In April of this year, United Way announced that, as its Bold Goal #2, it would be working to increase fouryear graduation rates among Akron Public Schools students to 90 percent by 2025, with 60 percent of graduates ready for college or a career. Key to success will be programs like iC.A.R.E. mentoring, which offer much-needed guidance and support to students. The constant presence of a caring adult has a lasting academic impact – on average, absenteeism rates for students who are mentored through in-school programs like iC.A.R.E. decrease by nearly 50 percent.
With Dameire and Dazaun about to start the 8th grade, high school graduation is still years away. But Gould hopes to be there for them for until then. At the beginning of each school year, he asks them if they still want him to be their mentor.
Three years in, they still do.