MOSAIC mentors those left behind

Cindy Von Quednow

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Jose Tribaldo never liked school, skipping classes all through elementary until high school, but today, at the age of 21, he works at different schools teaching art to troubled youth.

Five years ago he was a student at Jack London Continuation School in Van Nuys. Now as a maturing artist, Tribaldo works as a Volunteer in Service to America for CSUN’s MOSAIC program, which stands for Mentoring to Overcome Struggles and Inspire Courage.’

‘Honestly I can say I wouldn’t be right here right now if it wasn’t for the MOSAIC mentors and program,’ said Tribaldo, who was once arrested for practicing his art. ‘I don’t know where I would be.’

MOSAIC is a service learning program that hires CSUN students to work as mentors, tutors and role models to at-risk and gang involved youth via after school programs at four neighboring sites. MOSAIC was founded in 2004 when it was awarded a grant by Learn and Serve America, a federal program that promotes national and community service.

‘The idea with MOSAIC was to get a program together that was so much more in depth and helping our target population: youth that don’t usually get mentors, young people that are mostly left behind and are considered throw away youth,’ said Jennifer Roman, founder and director of MOSAIC. ‘What we did with MOSAIC was put it on steroids, to kick it up a notch. We also found that, in general, our population was not being served because, for whatever reason, people were afraid to work with these young people.’

Roman, who graduated with a bachelors in social welfare in 2003, admits that although it is hard to work with troubled youth, eventually they come around and allow others to help them. For this reason, a former mentor brought up a quote that perfectly summed up their sentiments:

‘People put up walls not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down.”

Both Roman and Teresa Madden, a full-time lecturer in the sociology department conducted a study starting in 2006 which showed that people who went through the MOSAIC program showed an increase in civic engagement and participation. Furthermore, 82 percent of the youth involved in the program fulfilled at least half of their goals identified in their action plans.

MOSAIC is connected to a class in the sociology department, where issues of trust and building relationships with mentees are discussed. Sociology 496 is designed as a year course taught by Madden on Tuesdays. The class of 30-35 mentors meets to discuss real life situations they might encounter with their mentees and set shot term goals for themselves. Thursdays are meant for the mentors to meet with their mentees at one of the partnership sites. According to Roman, mentors get paid, through work study, for their hours out on the field.’

‘It’s designed to teach theory in the class and they take those ideas out into the field and bring them to life,’ said Madden, who has been working with MOSAIC for four years. The class is a mix of newcomers and veterans, who have been with the program for more than a year.’

In order to break down those walls built between a mentor and mentee, Madden advises her students to ‘use all the tools in their tool box,’ and to find their own talents.

Many of the mentors and mentees enjoy painting and doing graffiti art something MOSAIC uses that as a mentoring tool. Even if the mentors aren’t artists, they can use art to work together and build a bond.

One of the incentives for the youth involved in MOSAIC is an annual art show that the program puts on, in which the students exhibit their art at the CSUN art galleries.

‘Usually (the art show) is a huge motivating factor for them,’ said Roman. ‘The kids are shocked at people wanting to buy their art, that whole process helps them to see themselves as artists and we try to push them to the next level of art.’

Tribaldo agrees the art shows help the mentees develop a feeling of self worth.

‘Most of the time these kids all they hear is that they’re good for nothing and when they see that people actually like their artwork, I’m pretty sure it gives them a sense of accomplishment,’ he said.

Edwin Cruz, who has been with MOSAIC since the beginning of the semester, said that using art can also work as an educational experience.

‘We try to make the students realize that they have artistic talents and it can be used more than just an illegal way’hellip;and try to open their mind and change their views to other paths in their lives,’ said Cruz, a senior criminal justice major.’

That is precisely the reason Jocelyn, 17, a student at Evergreen Continuation School continues to participate in MOSAIC.

‘(I come) to get support for my education, and be expressive through my education and through art,’ she said.

Art is only one avenue through which strong relationships and bonds are built between mentors and mentees, mostly because the two are so close in age.’ ‘

‘What we definitely find is that the young age really helps them to make that connection, there is just some kind of magic there,’ said Roman of the bond between the two entities. ‘It’s an undervalued skill to reach this population.’

Yescenia, 17, also a student at Evergreen, can attest to that.

‘They’re young so they know what’s going on,’ she said. ‘You can’t really talk to them the way you would talk to adults.’

Aside from working at the sites, mentors and mentees go on field trips from everywhere to Knott’s Scary Farm to CSUN, something that is effective in encouraging the youth to think about college.’

‘Most of our youth do not connect with the idea of going to college, they’ve been to the Northridge mall, but they don’t know anything about Cal State Northridge,’ said Roman. ‘That is part of the mentors job to say, ‘if I can do it then you can do it too.”

As for CSUN students that went through the MOSAIC program, Madden says that they both grow and have numerous opportunities available to them upon graduation.

‘What keeps me going is the growth that I see in my students. Their growth astounds me ‘hellip; and I have so much respect for them,’ she noted.’ ‘If you go through a program like MOSAIC you have a boost of confidence, you leave saying ‘I can do more and I want to do more.”

She added that her students go on to graduate school and various careers like social workers and probation officers.’

Alex Ojeda, a recent liberal studies graduate who worked with MOSAIC throughout his undergraduate studies at CSUN, came back to continue helping and learning from the program.

‘(MOSAIC) broadened my horizons in my education all together and I was able to learn more about the public school system and how they are dismissing a lot of the important aspects of education,’ said Ojeda, who is now working on his master’s in Chicana/o studies.

‘This is an experience that stays with them for a long time, I think that this is a life changing experience,’ said Madden.

This is the case with Tribaldo, who now gets hired to paint murals. ‘If you were to talk to me about MOSAIC five years ago, when I was a mentee, I would never have thought about all the stuff I’ve done with them’hellip; I guess it’s like their goal to get me to become a successful artist.’