Touching hearts, inspiring youth at BRMA

Feb. 10, 2011 4:30 pm

In January, Lorie Clark, high school specialist for the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate, the flagship mentorship program in Chapel-Hill Carrboro City Schools, was presented the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award in recognition for her longtime service to the minority youth community in the district. To a standing ovation at First Baptist Church on Roberson Street in Chapel Hill, Clark received the honors from the president of the local NAACP chapter, Michelle Laws.

Her life’s calling

Born and bred in Chapel Hill, Lorie graduated with a theater degree from UNC – Chapel Hill. After 15 years in the commercial and broadcasting industry, the prospect of being cooped up in a control room all day started to feel isolating — it just didn’t correspond to what she felt to be her life’s calling. Despite the seemingly abrupt detour, the seed for service work was planted early in life as Clark’s own mother was heavily involved in the community.

“In 2001, I came to a crossroad and needed change. I felt like there should be more to life,” said Clark, who dabbled in service at the Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Department and the University’s Sonya Hayes Stone Center for a few months before eventually finding her calling with young people.

“Everything at Blue Ribbon feels so natural to me. It’s a perfect fit,” she said. For the past nine years since, she has been serving for the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate.

Preoccupied with passion

Clark is a tough person to get hold of. With the sheer number of things on her plate, one would think she has more than 24 hours in a day.  Her work involves coordinating high school mentees, organizing programs for them and advising for the Blue Ribbon Youth Leadership Institute — she often even has to travel out of town.

Yet Clark said she does not feel overwhelmed. Rather than seeing these things as work commitments, Clark said she finds joy in serving because that is what life is about. Ultimately, she said it boils down to passion.

“I am human and I get tired, too, but I keep my eye on the prize. Being able to see these children do well academically and help fulfill their dreams is to me the best reward ever,” Clark said.

“I want the kids in Chapel Hill to see beyond Chapel Hill, dream beyond Chapel Hill and know that these dreams can come to fruition,” she said.

To those around her, Clark’s zeal shines amidst her busy schedule.

“She is one of the most dedicated people I know. The kids just love her,” said Sue Rosman, academic support specialist of BRMA and a personal friend to Clark.

In fact, Clark still manages to meet up with one her mentees of seven years, Mayte Rodas, at least once every two weeks. They hang out over food, attend dance classes and volunteer.

To Rodas, Clark takes on a dual role as a friend and a mother figure.

“Lorie looks at me like her daughter, she gives me the same advice she would give to her son,” Rodas said. “When I get bad grades, she will get upset, just like my mom would.”

Touching hearts, inspiring youth

Mentorship, as Clark sees it, means being a friend for the child and providing additional support to her parents. BRMA works primarily with minority youth in the district, many of whom face a lack of resources to education and life after high school.

“The children face myriad of issues that schools are not aware of,” she said. “BRMA steps in to provide the resources that expose them to opportunities outside school.”

Some examples she cited include leadership training, service learning trips, job shadowing opportunities and SAT resources.

Joyce Carter-Mason, a senior at Chapel Hill High School and BRMA mentee of five years, can attest to the value of these resources.

“I can share even the littlest things with [my mentor],” she said. “She showed me how to take care of myself, and she gives me something to look forward to in life. My ambition is to become a counselor for kids, just like my mentor.”

This article was reported as part of the J253 Reporting and News Writing course at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.