Gerson Martinez to Head Talbot Mentors

Talbot Mentors is pleased to announce the appointment of Gerson W. Martinez as its new Executive Director. Gerson will succeed Natalie Costanzo, who is returning in early January to her native Australia.

Board member Beth Anne Langrell, who chaired TM’s search committee, summed up its decision: “We wanted a solid role model for our kids, a dynamic executive to manage and fundraise for our fast-growing organization, and a person who can recruit mentors and connect successfully with related organizations in our community. We think Gerson is ideally suited for all these roles.”

Talbot Mentors President Bill Brashares added: “Of all the wonderful qualities Natalie Costanzo brought to this position, the hardest to replace is her incredible energy and enthusiasm for our mission serving our kids and their families. What put Gerson first among an impressive group of applicants is that energy and enthusiasm.”

Gerson, born and raised in Talbot County, received his BS in economics and statistical mathematics from the University of Maryland in 2007, then began an investment banking career in New York City at Morgan Stanley. After five years as a securities analyst and trader, he realized he needed to entirely change the direction of his career, understanding that he needed to use his vocation to directly impact the lives of those most disadvantaged in our society. He left Wall Street and became a founding member of a startup charter school in the South Bronx. Together with his wife Samantha, Gerson made door-to-door visits to hundreds of families, successfully recruiting the first 200 students, then taking charge of the school’s business activities, strategic modeling, and academic data analysis.

Gerson and Samantha decided in 2016 to relocate with their 2-year-old daughter Olivia to the Shore and seek new opportunities to work with children in our community. Samantha became a teacher at Easton Elementary School. She and Gerson both applied to TM to become mentors. While going through the mentor orientation process, Gerson learned of the search for Natalie’s successor. He decided this was the perfect opportunity to help kids and enrich the community where he grew up.

For more information about Talbot Mentors and the role you can play in helping enrich the lives of local kids, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999 or visit

What are we thankful for…. Mentors!

All of the staff, board members, families and especially the kids at Talbot Mentors are very thankful for all of our mentors. We know the time, energy and love that all of our mentors give to their mentees. Earlier this month the parent of a past mentee sent us an email and shared her experience with Talbot Mentors. This story is a great example of just how much our mentors are appreciated!

“I was a divorced single mother raising 3 kids. My youngest, Cody, was 9 years old. Working full time for the Easton Post Office, my time was limited with the kids. The two older children had their school sports and activities and friends, but I felt Cody needed more structure as he had ADHD, and his dad wasn’t around all the time.

Through Talbot Mentors, Cody was matched with Mr. Perley, an older man (in his 60s) who had already raised his children (including an adopted one). He loved children. They hit it off immediately! The first day, when Mr. Perley brought Cody home, I thanked him, and he said to me, ‘No, thank you.’ This brought tears to my eyes and still does.

Cody and he had a great love for fishing, and Cody had even taught him some things. LOL! Cody and Mr. Perley did all kinds of things together. They would work in his shop and make stained glass, bird houses and Xmas decorations (which I still hang on the tree). Mr. Perley would come and watch him play football, and he’d go to an award or Xmas program at the school.

I feel that Talbot Mentors was a godsend. Working the hours I worked, I couldn’t give Cody all the attention he deserved. This program was so positive. I have always felt blessed that these two met. Cody and Mr. Perley continued together for about 4 years. Then we had to move to Dorchester County and the match ended. Through the years I have always wished the two could be reunited. Cody lives in Denton now with his own family. He is 25 now. Last I heard, Mr. Perley still lives in Cordova.

I recommend this program to anyone and will always have very high regard for Talbot Mentors and Mr. Perley!”

After reading this email we set about trying to find Mr. Perley. After several wrong phone calls, we found him. He is no longer in Cordova, but lives in Florida. He is 81 years old and was lost for words. We have put Mr. Perley and Cody back in touch!

For more information about Talbot Mentors and the role you can play in helping enrich the lives of local kids, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999 or visit our website

Talbot Mentors Turns 20!

Fun—a major component in the mentor/mentee equation—will be in great supply at the Talbot Mentors 20th Anniversary Fair. On Friday, September 29, 2 to 7 p.m., the great lawn at the Elks Lodge (502 Dutchmans Lane, Easton) becomes a fairgrounds teeming with rides, games, classic cars, and food. Also on tap will be a fire truck, dunking tank (mentors and staff, watch out!), DJ, and a fun-photo booth.

Mentors and mentees—and their families—are invited guests. Members of the public are most welcome—a $10 admission charge covers rides and food.

It was 20 years ago that Phil Kirby, a retired member of the Talbot Count community, set out to create a local infrastructure through which caring adults would be matched with youth for long-term supportive relationships. And so Talbot Mentors was born, “to help students become good and responsible citizens with a sense of values and standards.” Over the years the organization has enriched the lives of hundreds of kids.

Talbot Mentors is in the midst of a very exciting growth spurt. In 2015 there were 50 mentor/mentee matches. There will be 120 by year’s end.

We are working toward 200 matches by 2020,” says Natalie Costanzo, the Talbot Mentors executive director since 2015. “Our long-term goal is to provide a mentor for every kid in the county who needs one.”

A mentor and mentee generally get together for a couple of hours a week. Movies, bowling, a meal out, a walk, a museum visit, time at the library, a spin on the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry, a night out at the ballpark. . .time spent together runs the gamut, with mentor and mentee deciding what they’d like to do. Rounding things out, Talbot Mentors hosts free special events, from farm visits to boating parties.

But at the core of the mentor/mentee relationship is something much more
basic. . .and priceless.

“Last week, an eighth-grader told me how great it is to have an adult who listens—really listens—to her,” says Natalie.

“Every day something happens to remind me just how amazing this program is,” she continues. “Children’s lives are being changed as mentors derive great satisfaction from the relationships.

Match number 110 took place earlier in the month. “Blake and Fredy clicked right away,” Natalie says. “I finally had to stop them from talking to each other because I had to go home and see my family.” Later that evening she received a text from Blake. “I am so excited and thankful that Fredy is my mentee.”

For more information about Talbot Mentors and the role you can play in helping enrich the lives of local kids, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999 or visit our website

Knock, knock… who’s there? Talbot Mentors Kids Comedy Camp

Talbot Mentors have bought former stars of The Second City and current stars of The Comedy Arcade in Pittsburgh to run a comedy camp for Middle and Elementary School kids in Easton. 20 students have been lucky enough to be trained in the art of improvisation. Improvisation is not just for future comedians. The kids gain confidence in navigating challenges, public speaking, critical thinking, and working as a team, all while laughing and of course having fun.

The Prager Family Auditorium has provided the perfect space for our aspiring actors, class clowns and thoughtful observers. The Comedy Camp has run August 14 – 17 and will culminate with two performances by the students for their families to show off their new improvisation skills.

On Saturday, September 23 The Arcade Comedy Theatre will perform world-class skits and improvisation like Whose Line Is It Anyway?, featuring a comedy skit from the youth of Talbot Mentors. Shows will be 6 and 8pm at The Prager Family Auditorium. For tickets call the Talbot Mentors Office on 410 770 5999.

Talbot Mentors aims to enrich the lives of youth in Talbot County by pairing together local youth with caring adult Mentors. Currently there are 110 kids in the Talbot Mentors Family, and we hope to make this 120 by the end of 2017, and 200 by 2020.

For more information about Talbot Mentors and the role you can play in helping enrich the lives of local kids, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999.

Making New Waves at Talbot Mentors

Mentees, Raekwon and Zymez enjoying the new space.

Move over Easton. Here comes Saint Michaels. Talbot Mentors is opening their second office in this tourist destination. Mentors and mentees alike are invited to come see what “a little hard work” can do. Along with a new office; Talbot Mentors welcomes a new staff member as well. Monica Curreri, a Pfeiffer University Alumni and mentor to Ma’leah Robinson, will be serving as case manager for the non-profit. During college, Monica studied sociology and psychology. Now, she uses both to usher in a diverse and creative atmosphere to the new center. Monica became a mentor after discussing the organization with a friend. When she was younger, her grandmother surrounded her with unconditional love and support. “She was one person that I could talk to and ask questions. I could learn from her. She made me feel special,” she says, “I wanted to bring that feeling to another child.” In January, Monica joined Talbot Mentors and since then, has been a positive role model to the children.

Monica Curreri, the St Michael’s Case Manager

She is dedicated to the development of the Saint Michaels’ office. “It’s cool! It has grown from an empty space into a place for fun!” With her history in the food industry, Monica hopes to bring back home cooked meals. Thus, teaching the mentees valuable life skills, while also pursuing a passion.

Not only is Monica going to teach the children how to thrive in the kitchen, she also wants to begin a program for high school students. “It’s still a work in progress but I see great potential in the new area,” Monica informs, “We’re ironing out the wrinkles!” Friends First, a program where seniors and juniors are matched with sixth-graders to help them navigate every-day challenges of middle school, is one of Monica’s many projects. The high school student would benefit from Friends First by receiving community service hours and a broader college transcript, while the sixth graders will gain lasting relationships and useful advice.

“I hope to see us grow from 14 mentoring relationships to 100 in the Bay Hundred area,” she says. When asked what she loved about being a mentor, Monica replied, “It’s the feeling that you get when you notice the connection building with your mentee. I love it!” This is a promising move for Talbot Mentors. Welcome aboard, Monica. The office in Saint Michaels officially opened on May 22nd with over 25 local community members attending.

The new space in St Michaels

The St Michaels Office will be open on Tuesdays and Fridays till 5:30pm, and is in the back of the St Michaels Housing Authority in Dodson Avenue.

There are many more children in the Bay Hundred Area that need mentors. We are in immediate need of five new men to mentor boys in the St Michaels and Tilghman Island area. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, or know of somebody who would make a great mentor contact Natalie Costanzo today on or 410 770 5999.

Talbot Mentors Awards Its 2017 Scholarship to Michael McCormack

Have a great day at school. Work hard and be a leader, not a follower. Go Michael!”

One morning, not too long ago, Michael McCormack—recipient of Talbot Mentors’ $2,000 scholarship—woke up to these words. They came in the form of a text message from his mentor, Brian Cotter, who writes to him daily. The morning motivational texts are in addition to regular get-togethers, church attendance, and evening phone calls. “The most we’ve ever gone without being in touch was when I was at Boy Scout camp, and even then I snuck in a phone call,” says Michael.

Michael and “Mr.” Brian have been a mentor/mentee pair for ten years. To see the two of them together is to immediately appreciate that this is a deeply engaged, respectful, and fun relationship. For Michael, Brian is like a father—especially over the past five years, in light of the death of Michael’s dad. “Michael is family,” says Brian. “That’s just the way it is.”

This year’s Talbot Mentors scholarship is offered in recognition of Michael’s values, sense of purpose, and achievements in and out of school. He graduates from Saint Peters and Paul School —where his mom teaches third grade—at the end of May. His favorite subjects have been religion, history, computers, and gym.

Now, as his high school tenure winds down, Michael is playing a waiting game. The 18-year-old was accepted into all eight schools to which he applied, and now he has to choose. Which school will enjoy the honor of having this thoughtful, mature, dedicated, compassionate, pragmatics, and bright young man as a student depends on which institution will best come through for him with financial assistance.

“I do not want to totally finance school with loans and want to be financially responsible,” Michael says. One of the options he’s considering is Maryland’s 2+2 Transfer Scholarship program—two years at Chesapeake College and then two years at a state university.

What are Michael’s thoughts regarding career? “I am thinking about arts and entertainment management, or maybe something with sports,” he says, adding that he knows he’ll be studying business along the way. As he noted in his Talbot Mentors Scholarship application, “I would attend college in order to fully develop my talents and skills, as well as to grow as a person.”

Michael is an expert in time management. Throughout his student years he has juggled school, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and part-time jobs. Theater—on the stage but primarily behind the scenes—has been a staple in his life. As a veteran of several sports activities, Michael says he enjoys basketball the most. “I like the people, and my dad liked the sport, so there is a connection there,” says Michael. Adding to his fondness for the basketball is that fact that his mentor has coached the Saint Peter and Paul team for more than a decade.

“Michael played for two years and since has managed the team for 10 years,” says Brian, pointing out that in this role Michael touches every aspect of team life, from keeping track of team member stats and releasing this information to the Star Democrat to acting as a liaison between the coaches and the players. “He’s like a junior assistant coach,” says Brian, “doing everything imaginable to help the team.”

Making a difference matters to Michael, who has been an active member of many high school clubs, including Key Club. “We always do something to help people,” he says. Indeed, the club’s activities include a Special Olympics program.

“You are on the 18th hole and you have one putt left. Don’t miss it.”  That’s another of Brian’s morning messages to Michael.

For all his involvement, however, Brian doesn’t specifically steer his mentee. “Michael should do what he’s interested in doing. I am there to support him,” says Brian. “My only stipulation is that he works hard at what he does and that he keeps his grades up.”

Michael, whose grade point average is 3.32, has racked up accomplishments beyond the school environment. For more than six years he worked part-time on a farm, doing everything from “mowing the lawn to power washing the dock to grading the driveway,” he explains. Now he’s working at the new car wash in Easton—Gander’s—where you will see him directing the outside area. He directs drivers to the car-detail base, makes sure the customers are happy when the wash is complete, and sees to it that any problems are handled in a timely fashion.

Michael is currently providing technical support for the Tred Avon Players show Lend Me a Tenor, at the Oxford Community Center. He is rehearsing as Shenzi, the lead hyena, in the Chesapeake Children’s Theatre, Lion King, at the Prager Family Auditorium in Easton, June 9th  and 10th.

Michael, who is a member of Easton’s Boy Scout Troop 190, has recently received his Eagle Scout. Michael’s project was for Old Saint Joseph’s Church in Cordova in which he painted and repaired two outside buildings as well as planting trees in the cemetry. The church, which is a part of his parish, is special to Michael since his father is buried there and he wanted to spruce up the area, while completing his project.

In the realm of entertainment, NCIS is one of his favorite shows, and Mark Harmon is an actor who has his respect. Why Harmon?

“As a character, you know who he is,” Michael says, adding that “he always keeps the audience wanting more.”

Well, the same can be said for the Talbot Mentors 2017 scholarship recipient. Michael, you leave us wanting more, and clearly there’s lots more to come.

Where does he see himself 10 years from now? “Just enjoying whatever I’m doing.”

Go Michael!

A Talbot Mentors Match—the 100th 

By Sheila Buckmaster

2017 is an important year for Talbot Mentors. It is our 20th anniversary. Hundreds of Talbot County children have been matched with mentors in our 20 year history. Today is a special day. Today marks the most mentor/mentee pairs the organization has supported at one time – 100!

The meeting that will formalize a brand-new mentor/mentee match begins with an icebreaker—a way to get the group involved in something other than the sweet nervousness that comes with making new friends. At its core, the relationship between a mentor and a mentee is all about the trust, guidance, and care that characterize deep friendship.

Jazmine and Javana (Talbot Mentors staffers) get up from the table. Following suit are Tina (the new mentor), Heidy (the new second-grade mentee) and her mom and younger brother, and Jeremy (a seasoned mentor who has joined the group as translator). Heidy’s mom, Keilin, is from Central America and is just starting to learn English.

“Let’s play,” says Jazmine. “This is a little game about things that make you happy,” she continues before launching into a series of questions. There are no winners or losers. It is a chance to start to get to know one another.

“Which do you like better, dogs or cats?” Jazmine asks. The dog people are invited to stand on the left side of the room; the cat people, on the right. It’s dogs, unanimously. “Beaches or amusement parks?”  Only Javana opts for beaches. “Pizza or burgers”? All votes go for pizza—no, wait a second, Jeremy has walked to the burger side of the room. Heidy giggles. Before long, the ice is broken and everyone sits back down, still discussing likes. “Dancing” for Tina and Keilin; “playing Legos more than watching TV” for Heidy.

The laughter grows warmer.

“Now can I talk to Heidy?” Tina asks. Her cut-to-the-chase exuberance can be construed as a harbinger of things to come. Heidy will surely benefit from the “let’s get the ball rolling” spirit of a woman who clearly loves children and can’t wait to get started.  But she’s going to have to be patient for 15 minutes more.

“Today is April 3, 2017, says Javana. “It’s an important date—for you and, in a very exciting way, for Talbot Mentors,” she says, making eye contact with everyone seated at the table. “This will be your anniversary date.” Tina and Heidy look at each other.  Javana goes on to explain that mentor, mentee, and mentee’s mom will get together and celebrate in exactly one year. They will take stock on how things have gone for Tina and Heidy; what have they most enjoyed doing? In fact, mentors and mentees usually agree that “just being together” is what matters most. What are their thoughts re year two?

The importance of April 3, 2017, for the organization? “This is the 100th Talbot Mentors match,” Javana offers with a smile that could light darkness. History in the making! Murmurs around the room. This milestone match brings together a woman who grew up in the slums of Sao Paulo, came to the U.S. when she was 14, and went on to be a successful Eastern Shore real estate broker with a reserved seven-year-old child whose eyes flash brightness and whose conversation shuttles easily between Spanish and English. Tina is fluent in Spanish, which will go a long way to keeping Heidy’s mom in the loop.

Exchanged between Tina and Keilin are 3×5 cards with contact information. Logistical glue.

Next comes the match agreement—a one-pager that spells out expectations and commitments. Jazmine reads, “The mentoring relationship is a partnership between the mentee, mentor, mentee’s parent/caregiver, and Talbot Mentors, in a commitment to meet for 1-2 hours a week for a year. We ask that all members commit to working through challenges and agree to responsibilities outlined below.” Jeremy translates.

Communication—among all parties—tops the contract list. Making dates. Keeping dates. Sharing information on Talbot Mentors special events. Reporting pressing challenges. The document and a pen are passed around. Signers are Javana, Heidy, Tina, and Keilin. It is a declaration of interdependence that sets the stage for success.

Everyone’s schedule is tight, but the group quickly lands on a regular Sunday afternoon meeting time for Tina and Heidy. “School’s out June 9,” says Tina. “I hope we can meet more than once a month during the summer.”

Nods of agreement. Applause all around. A journey has begun. Tina and Keilin hug. And then the proud new mentor walks over to Heidy, who, in no time flat, is on Tina’s lap.

Smiles are wide. Horizons too. What a match!

There are many more children in Talbot County that need mentors. We are in immediate need of twenty new mentors. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, or know of somebody who would make a great mentor contact Natalie Costanzo today on or 410 770 5999.

A Talbot Mentor Comes Full Circle

By Sheila F. Buckmaster

In the best of mentoring circumstances, a mentee is always a mentee—even when she becomes a mentor herself. Twenty-three-year-old Jazmine Gibson, the Talbot Mentors Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, still is in touch at least once a month with Merrilie Ford, who began mentoring her 12 years ago. They talk on the phone, they email, they get together. Talk about longevity: Talbot Mentors celebrates its 20thanniversary this year. What’s more, the organization is at 96 mentee­–mentor pairs, well on the way to 120 matches by the end of 2017.

Now Jazmine is mentoring Lai’Aurii Brice, a feisty first-grader who was recently seen wearing a shirt emblazoned with the words “It’s not all about me. Just mostly.” It is a fitting slogan for a little girl who doesn’t think twice about going after what she wants. The petite seven-year-old actually recruited Jazmine to be her mentor.

Here’s how that happened.

“I did not come into mentoring like most mentors do,” says Jazmine. After watching a training video during a parent/mentee introduction session at the Talbot Mentors headquarters, Jazmine and ‘Lai started playing together while ‘Lai’s mom spoke with Case Manager Javana Bowser. As ‘Lai and her mother were about to leave, the young girl looked Jazmine in the eye and said, “I know I am going to get to see you and play again because you are going to be my mentor.”

Jazmine wasn’t quite ready to sign up—and ‘Lai wasn’t quite ready to abandon her wish. “The next time I saw her,” says Jazmine, “she was here for an after-school cooking session. As soon as she saw me walk in, she said, ‘Look everyone, it’s my mentor.’ She ran over to me and gave me a hug.”

And so the match was made—early in January 2017. Most mentor/mentee pairs meet once a week. ‘Lai and Jazmine have been getting together two or three times a week—going to Pet Smart to see the animals, playing with the kittens at Talbot Humane, looking at art at the Academy Art Museum (followed by some frozen yogurt), walking around Target, and hanging out at the Mentors office after school on Wednesdays.

As a well-seasoned mentee and a Talbot Mentors staffer, Jazmine has a great grounding for being a mentor. From her various vantage points, she knows that the crux of good mentoring is individual attention. “To have someone carve out time for you means the world,” she says. “Miss Merrillee showed me that. In the time we have spent together, a world of opportunities to see the world in constructive ways has opened up for me. We went places, and she shared stories about her life. I saw, I listened, and I learned. She gave me so much.”

Now in the Mentor’s Seat, Jazmine is determined to provide the same sort of experience for ‘Lai.

Jazmine’s tool box also is enriched by her work at Talbot Mentors. She redeveloped the mentor training program to have it coincide with National Mentoring Association guidelines. She plays a key role in training new mentors, working with other staffers and Lenny Gold, who has been a Talbot Mentor for two decades. To now be a mentor herself is “almost surreal,” she says. “It’s one thing to be on staff at Talbot Mentors and another thing to actually be a mentor.”

And so she now is in the same shoes as those she trains. “I’m one of them, looking for ways to become a better mentor and choosing fun activities for my mentee. The Talbot Mentors organization helps mentors find their way when it comes to things to do with kids. The first time the two of them got together as “mentor and mentee,” Jazmine and ‘Lai pored over the Talbot Mentors “Idea a Week” list and checked off more than two dozen “must-do” activities, including walking the trails at Pickering Creek, sitting down for a soda at Hill’s, taking photographs, going fishing, and heading out for a swim at the Easton or St. Michaels community pool.

‘No matter what we do together, being with ‘Lai always reminds me of what it’s like to be little,” Jazmine says. “The enthusiasm—though she is far more outgoing than I ever was—the stubbornness, how great it is to have fun, and how good it feels to have someone pay attention to you.”

It’s not uncommon for a mentor—even one with only a couple of mentoring months under her belt—to think way down the line. Jazmine’s hopes for ‘Lai? “That’s a big question,” she says and then offers a sincere, uncomplicated answer. “She should be happy.”

For more information, to make a contribution, or to volunteer as a mentor, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999 or visit

Bringing the Anti-Smoking Message Home—Artfully

When Talbot Mentors asked the Academy Art Museum to design an anti-smoking project, Constance Del Nero, the museum’s Director of ArtReach and Community Programs, got creative. “I wanted to do something a little more unusual than the standard posters students traditionally make

for such projects.” Thinking outside of the box, she came up with an art experience that would allow mentees to simulate the damage caused by smoking.

First, she showed the anti-smoking “creative team” pictures of healthy lungs and smokers’ lungs. Then, using printmaking paper, pencils, markers, charcoal, crayons, tea, and coffee, the kids really got into the project as they aggressively made a series of marks that represented the harm done by smoking. “When the lungs looked sufficiently damaged,” says Constance, “we set them aside to dry.”  

Next, the kids cut out a pair of “healthy lungs” from pinkish card stock, then mounted both the healthy and damaged lungs on poster board—and added information about what makes smoking dangerous and helpful ways to get a loved one to quit. 

“Having the students actively participate in degrading the lungs put them in a unique position to understand the damage caused by smoking over time,” says Constance. “I hope they were sufficiently ‘grossed out’ not to want to start in the first place.” 

Constance has worked for the Academy Art Museum for five and a half years, designing field trips around museum exhibitions, working with area schools and community organizations, and designing special programs for students of all ages.

“Constance really outdid herself this time around. She came up with a powerful project that conveyed a critically important message in a way that can’t be ignored,” says Talbot Mentors Executive Director Natalie Costanzo.

For more information, to make a contribution or to volunteer as a mentor, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999 or visit www.talbot

A Talbot Mentors Bilingual Match

You just might see them sitting across from each other in the popular back space of Rise Up on Dover Street. Chances are, given the cold weather, they’re sipping hot chocolate. Here we have a boy and his mentor, Lizardo Santos (age 12) and Jeremy Hillyard (age 30). Listen. They are speaking English, though they could just as easily be speaking Spanish. Jeremy has taught Spanish at Easton High School for seven years. Named Easton High School Teacher of the Year in Spring 2016, he teaches all levels of Spanish, including AP. (He also coaches the school’s It’s Academic quiz-competition team.) Seventh-grader Lizardo, born in the United States, speaks Spanish at home with his mom and sister, Azuceli. The family hails from Guatemala.
Lizardo is a very gentle, polite, and attentive boy; Jeremy, as befits a teacher, is patient, kind, encouraging, and quick with humor. Jeremy and Lizardo were “matched” by Talbot Mentors in March. Their banter and ease—in English, in Spanish—would suggest that they’ve been in each other’s lives far longer.

“I want to use my language skills to be productive,” Jeremy says, adding, “in a meaningful way. There’s a real need for bilingual support in our community.”

Jeremy and Lizardo generally see each other once a week. “I took him to the first movie ever in his life: Zootopia,” says Jeremy. “Since then we’ve seen Angry Birds, Finding Dory, Secret Life of Pets (‘that was really fun,” says Lizardo), and Storks.” (Indeed, mentors who mentor children under the age of 14 often can tell you all about the latest kids’ movies.)

Another favorite mentor/mentee haunt is Kiln Born (everybody still calls it Clay Bakers). On a visit in the summer, Lizardo chose a shark to glaze. He painted the body blue and the tail black. “The teeth were red,” Jeremy says. “That was the really scary part.”

A special treat for Lizardo—and Jeremy—was the Pitbull concert in Washington, DC, at the Verizon Center. “It was at night,” says Lizardo, who was familiar with the artist’s Latin American–style hip hop. “It was my first concert. Seeing him sing was really cool,” Lizardo says, eyes wide.

Jeremy’s fluency in Spanish makes it easy for him to communicate with Lizardo’s mom. In a twist of linguistics, she said to Jeremy, the first time she met him, that she hoped he could teach Lizardo more Spanish!

“Recently she told me she wanted to get Internet,” Jeremy recalls,” but didn’t know how to go about it. I called Easton Utilities and got the information she needed.” (Pre-Internet in the Santos household, Lizardo and Jeremy would use Rise Up’s free wi-fi.)

“We got Internet on November 11th,” Lizardo pipes in. He uses it primarily for doing homework. His cell phone is more for play. “We love Pokémon GO,” Jeremy says.

Back to Rise Up. One afternoon, Jeremy and Lizardo got a behind-the-scenes look at the coffee-bean-roasting area. “Whatever we do, I like to have there be an educational link,” says Jeremy. “That’s the teacher in me—or something.” At Rise Up, the two learned about harvesting the beans, the concept of fair trade, how the beans are roasted, and, most pertinent of all, where the coffee comes from—places like Nicaragua, Costs Rica, and Guatemala.

Come June, Lizardo, his sister, and their mom will be heading to Guatemala to be with family. It will be Lizardo’s first time on a plane. Given his thoughts of possibly becoming a pilot when he grows up, this should be quite an experience. In the meanwhile, the seventh-grader’s favorite subject in school is social studies. He loves learning about the world. To be sure, Jeremy is making Lizardo’s world a little wider with each encounter.

How do Jeremy and Lizardo land on activities? “Jeremy asks me what I’d like to do,” says Lizardo. “One time he told me he wanted to go fishing,” Jeremy recalls. “I’m not a fisherman, but I have a friend who is. He used to teach outdoor education to kids,” Jeremy continues, “so I asked if he would take us fishing, and he did.”

“It was awesome,” says Lizardo. Catching a fish was another first for him. He brought the catfish home. “My mom made fish soup,” says Lizardo, pride seasoning his words.

“Lizardo told me he wanted to learn about cooking. We talked about what we should try and decided to go with a three-milk cake—very popular in Central America.” The two went shopping for ingredients and did their baking at the Talbot Mentors office, which has had a full kitchen since the spring. The cake turned out great.

Jeremy and Lizardo, who love sports, recently went on a Talbot Mentors outing to see the Wizards play in Washington, DC. While most mentor/mentee time is spent one-on-one, Talbot Mentors offers special programs, from following a corn maze in the fall to Wednesday after-school yoga, crafts, and martial arts sessions.

Jeremy’s enthusiasm for being a mentor is clear—and contagious. “It’s really neat. I’ve grown as a person. . .being able to be there for somebody and being helpful,” he offers. “That’s what makes mentoring so gratifying. It’s what drives me.”

To be sure, most mentors you talk to will tell you that they could well be getting more out of the experience than the kids are. But one look at Lizardo as he looks at Jeremy tells a story of mutual respect and happiness. It is a fine, fine match.

When asked to describe Jeremy, Lizardo says, “Cool. Nice. Awesome.

As their time at Rise Up winds down on a wintry Sunday, Jeremy turns to Lizardo and says, “I really like hanging out with you.”

Sometimes it’s that simple.

For more information, to make a contribution, or to volunteer as a mentor, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999 or visit

Talbot Mentors Elects Four New Board Members

tm-new-board-membersFour new members were recently elected to the board of directors at Talbot Mentors. They include Dr. Kelly Griffith, Dr. Lois McCoy, Tripper Showell and David Willse. “We are pleased to welcome this committed group of community leaders to our Board,” said Irene Schmidt, outgoing President of the Board of Directors. “Each of them brings diverse talents and experience as well as passion and commitment to our mission.”

Leaving the board are Kerry Foxwell, Martha Horner, Irene Schmidt, Peter Zukoski and Marie U’Ren. Natalie Costanzo, Executive Director of Talbot Mentors said, “These board members have been tireless ambassadors for Talbot Mentors and the youth of Talbot County.  Talbot Mentors, and in particular the mentors and mentees in the program have benefitted immensely from their time and talent as they led Talbot Mentors on an exciting journey in the last couple of years. This journey has resulted in a doubling of youth paired with mentors, and an increase in programming to ensure all young people in Talbot County have the opportunity to lead fulfilling and rewarding lives.”

Assuming the leadership role of board president is Bill Brashares who has served on the board for four years and who will follow Irene Schmidt. Bill has been a mentor and Board Member with Talbot Mentors for 15 years, and has mentored 3 boys in this time.

Talbot Mentors Annual Dinner

“Wow, What a Year!”

tm-emory-and-dennisWith those vibrant words, Executive Director Natalie Costanzo, opened what was a record-setting evening—the 19th annual Talbot Mentors dinner celebration on November 2, 2016 at The Milestone. There were an unprecented 232 people in attendance—mentors, mentees and members of their familiies. “We’re bursting at the seams, and we love it!” said Costanzo, who continued by thanking the mentors who step up to the plate to help improve the lives of local kids.

Talbot Mentors is based on one-on-one interactions between mentor and mentee.  To have so many in the program in one room spoke to the scope of Talbot Mentors and made all in attendance feel part of a very special—and growing—family. Celebrated that night were 85 mentor/mentee pairs.

tm-taylan-wilsonThe event provided an opportunity for the organization to recognize the life-changing contributions of its volunteer mentors, who give their time in friendship to a child, building relationships that benefit not only the children, but their families, the mentors themselves, and the community as a whole.

Costanzo spotlighted  some of the year’s successes: “Forty seven scholarships were given out to kids to attend a Summer Camp of their choice, up from 19 scholarships the year before. We renovated the Talbot Mentors Office space for the mentors and mentees. And we provided over 50 activities for mentors/mentees to enjoy throughout the year,” she said.

tm-staffAdults sat at the dinner tables, talking about the joys and challenges of mentoring. Kids jumped up from the tables to play together and have their pictures taken—funny glasses and silly hats optional!. But the room went silent when local singer-songwriter Kat Parsons accompanied mentee Taylan Wilson as she sang a stirring rendition of “At Last.”

All mentor/mentee pairs were acknowledged. A special shout-out—and certificates—were offered for five-year- matches. Jamesha Ross and Mary Meiser, Javion Emory and Miguel Dennis, Jordan Williams and Colin Meiser, and Darius Sarvis and Bob Coleman were recognized..

tm-ross-and-meiserThe evening closed with a lively video featuring mentors and mentees. As the kids recognized themselves up on the screen, the power of Talbot Mentors was spotlighted. Mentors and mentees, moving toward enriched lives, courtesy of powerful friendships and caring..

For more information, to make a contribution or to volunteer as a mentor, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999 or visit

Jazmine Gibson—on a Talbot Mentors Journey

tm-jazmine-gibsonBig or small, far-ranging or in one’s proverbial backyard, the experiences that come with being a Talbot Mentors mentee basically boil down to connection, the broadening of horizons, and stories. When asked to delve into her wealth of experiences as a mentee, Jazmine Gibson, now an integral part of the Talbot Mentors team, says that a visit to the post office held as much weight as a visit to New York.  “My mentor, Miss Merrilie [Ford], regularly took me on errands, which I loved,” she says. “At the post office I learned about postage stamps and how mail was weighed sorted, and delivered.  It was great,” she says. “And we would walk Miss Merrilie’s dogs—that meant a lot to me because I didn’t grow up with pets.”

Early in her relationship with her mentor, Jazmine found herself on the “giving side” of the volunteer-service fence. Her sixth-grade class had embarked on a project to gather and distribute food and toys to the animals at the Talbot Humane shelter. Each child in the class earned 15 hours of service for this effort—toward a total of 75. This number had to be reached in order for a student to receive a high school diploma. Jazmine graduated with 700-plus hours under her belt.

After high school she spent a year at the University of North Caroline Greensboro (major: psychology), then three semesters at Chesapeake Community College (major: communications), on scholarships from a few sources, including Talbot Mentors. “At that point I wasn’t sure what I wanted to ‘do with my life,’” she says. “and I didn’t want to continue with school if I didn’t have direction.”

In fact that direction—in full bloom—fell just short of being hard-wired. She always knew she wanted to be “part of the solution.” The community-service bug never stopped buzzing. So as she earned a paycheck with various employers, from Food Lion to BJ’s, she worked as a volunteer on a wealth of fronts, participating in an alcohol-awareness program, collecting and sorting provisions for the local food pantry, helping out with Easton’s Plein Air and Watefowl events, and—her favorite—giving  time to the residents of Dixon House, an assisted living facility in Easton. “We interviewed these wonderful people and put together scrapbooks for them—and us.” I loved their stories.”

Jazmine talks about stories a lot. They fuel her.

tm-jazmine-gibson-and-merillie-fordIn 2015, Jazmine gave Talbot Mentors five hours of her time to assist in a workshop entitled “Getting Your First Job” as part of Rotary’s Career Path Initiative . She’d been approached by Talbot Mentors Executive Director Natalie Costanzo, who’d learned about her through the tight-knit community-service grapevine.  Right after the Career Path workshop, Jazmine recalls, “Natalie said, ‘Hey, thank you for helping. I know you’ve done all sorts of community service work. Are you interested in doing the quarter-year AmeriCorps program at Talbot Mentors?” (AmeriCorps is a highly respected volunteer-driven program administered by the Maryland Governor’s office.) Natalie handed Jazmine an information sheet and asked her to think about it. “It sounded like a really cool opportunity,” Jazmine recalls. She accepted. Her experience as a Talbot Mentors mentee informed all she did that year. Indeed, she and Miss Merrilie, her mentor starting at age 11, continue to be in touch. “I love her and wouldn’t have the life I have today if not for our time together,” she says.

“During her stint with us, Jazmine proved to be smart, capable, caring—and fun,” says Natalie. “Talbot Mentors benefitted enormously from having her on the team.” Natalie would be thrilled to have her stay on.

In September, Jazmine became AmeriCorps’ Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, a full-time position with Talbot Mentors that comes with a “living stipend.” Volunteer Maryland’s mission is to build stronger, healthier communities by improving volunteer programs with nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and schools.

Easton born and bred, Jazmine, now 23, is putting in place policies and programs to help Talbot Mentors grow into a stronger organization. She recruits mentors and helps them be productive volunteers, and she puts together programs for the kids. “It is all about experiences,” she says, “and hearing our mentees’ stories gives me such hope.” Underpinning her work is the heartfelt understanding of what Talbot Mentors has done for her. (To backtrack: Her mentor came into her life when her mom traveled across the bridge for work, leaving little time for extracurricular activities, and her father was incarcerated.)

The mission of Talbot Mentors is to work to ensure that all young people in Talbot County have the opportunity to mature into engaged and productive members of their communities. To this end, their volunteers serve as mentors to young people in the community. Jazmine is in an excellent position to recruit such volunteers, because she was mentored herself. She is building on her experiences.

And the future? “I hope to gain management skills,” Jazmine says, “so that I can apply them to having my own business some day. I also want to learn the ins and outs of nonprofit work, and truly understand the impact that one individual can have.”  Humble words from someone who has spent more than a decade helping others.

For more information, to make a contribution, or to volunteer as a mentor, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999 or visit

Talbot Mentors Sends Kids to Camp

IMG_2600Even though the fall school season is in full swing, 47 kids are still enjoying memories of a week or more spent at summer camp. Ranging from 6 to 16, these children had a wealth of great experiences—some at day camp and others at sleepaway camp.

At its best, summer can be a time of widened horizons for young people, and camp can make a positive, lasting difference in a child’s life. An important part of mentoring is providing children with opportunities they may not otherwise have had.

Camp themes this year included Space, Fun & Funky Art, Photo Shop and Digital Illustration, Oil Painting Outdoors, River Running, Swimming, and Cooking.

Sacoya Williams, nine years old, attended multiple camp weeks, including Master Chefs at the Easton YMCA. In addition to making baked ziti, tortillas, and other dishes, she forged new relations. “I loved meeting the counselors and making new friends,” she says. Sacoya’s mentor,  Sheila Buckmaster, notes that Master Chefs was the perfect opportunity for her mentee. “At the Talbot Mentors Wednesday after-school program last year,” she says, “Sacoya participated in cooking classes, which completely captivated her.”

“This summer marked Talbot Mentors’ thirteenth season of providing the children we serve with financial assistance to attend at least one week of camp,” says Talbot Mentors Executive Director Natalie Costanzo. “Last year we sponsored 20 campers. This year we more than doubled this,” she continues. Seventeen of the participants in the camp program attended week-long sleepaway camp. For some this was their first time away from home.”

Camp programs were offered by the YMCA, Pickering Creek, Oxford Kids Camp, Academy Art Museum, Crashbox Theater, Camp Pecometh, Camp Wright, Coach Wooten’s Basketball Camp, Nike Softball Camp, and Young Life.

Thanks goes out to the Bryan Brothers Foundation, Midshore Community Foundation, Children’s Home Foundation and the individual donors for helping to send Talbot Mentors kids to camps.

“By offering our mentees the chance to attend summer camp, we’re able to enhance the efforts of our volunteer mentors and give the kids experiences they will never forget,” says Costanzo.

For more information, to make a contribution, or to volunteer as a mentor, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999 or visit

Corporation Helps Talbot Mentors Hit a Home Run!

TM_Kori Kiah at the Basball

As summer wound down, seven Talbot Mentors kids—and their mentors—got to see the Orioles beat the Nats. Thanks to the generosity of a corporation, the Talbot Mentors group had the privilege of seeing the action as they enjoyed the perks of a fully catered private suite. It was an experience of a lifetime. Other companies that might want to step up to the plate to enrich the lives of Talbot County kids are invited to contact Natalie Costanzo at Talbot Mentors on 410-770-5999 or

Talbot Mentors sets ambitious goal of more than doubling mentors for Talbot County children over five years

stanley-watts-hallThe Board and staff of Talbot Mentors™ is currently completing development of an innovative and comprehensive Strategic Plan.

Over the past year, the organization grew dramatically. Thirty-six new mentors were matched with mentees, almost doubling the number of matched pairs this year. This rapid growth and the increased need for mentors for youth in the community, led the staff and Board to begin a strategic planning process, facilitated by Focus Management Group of Salisbury, Md.

This month, building on Talbot Mentor’s two-decade history of matching the youth of Talbot County with mentors who want to make a difference in their lives, the Board set an ambitious goal:

  • To steadily grow the number of mentor/mentee pairs to 200 over five years, and further expand the number of young people in Talbot County positively impacted by TM’s programs through partnerships, group mentoring and other activities.

Talbot Mentors currently supports 75 mentor/mentee pairs. This is the greatest number of youth served by the program in its history.

The plan itself focuses on mentor, staff and board development, the financial sustainability of the organization, the cultivation of community partnerships, and the development of new programs.  The Talbot Mentors Board is now actively engaged in developing action plans that will enable increases in both the quantity of children served and the quality of the programs provided by the organization.

Board President Irene Schmidt explained the importance of the new plan, given the growth trajectory of Talbot Mentors. “We have moved from a situation where there was often a long waiting list of students in need of mentors, and few available volunteers.” she said, “Now, we are getting new mentor applications every week.  The energy at the Board, staff and mentor level is just fantastic.”

The strategic plan will help focus the organization on the best way to grow and support its vision for the children of Talbot County.  Talbot Mentors recently developed and adopted new vision and mission statements.

Talbot Mentors’ vision is that mentoring will make a significant contribution to building a Talbot County community where all young people have the opportunity to lead fulfilling and rewarding lives, including access to a variety of educational and employment options.

For more information, to make a contribution, or to volunteer as a mentor, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999 or visit

Talbot Mentors Awards Its 2016 Scholarship

TM_Dr Brandon and DjimonPursuing goals. . .chasing dreams. Djimon “Ji” Magee—a member of Easton High School’s graduating class of 2016—is well on his way. The recipient of this year’s Talbot Mentors $1,000 scholarship, Ji (rhymes with “eye”) is off to New York City for an 18-month program at Empire, a cosmetology school. He plans to become a hairdresser—specifically a celebrity hairdresser.

Ji has a long and fruitful history with Talbot Mentors. “I’m eighteen and have had a mentor since I was eleven,” he says. “No matter what, Dr. Brandon [his mentor] is always there for me. We can talk about anything. He’s gotten me through some tough times, like when my grandmother died.”

Ji and his mentor have seen movies together, gone out to eat, spent time crabbing, gone out on a boat, simply hung out at Talbot Mentors headquarters, and more. But whatever they do together, “It’s all about bonding time,” says Ji.

Dr. David Brandon, an anesthesiologist, takes us back to the beginning of his relationship with his mentee:

“I met Ji when he was eleven years old, when we were matched by Talbot Mentors. I have been his mentor ever since, and now I am his friend. Ji started out a little quiet and a bit shy, so at first I did most of the talking. I told him I was there to be his friend and spend time with him. He wanted to know why. So, I asked him if he wanted to graduate from high school someday. He said yes. Do you want to take drugs and drink alcohol? Do you want to get in trouble for dumb stuff when you get older? He said no to all these things. I told him my goals for him were the same as his own, and that with a lot of determination he could be successful. He liked that.”

A little later on, Brandon popped the ubiquitous question: what did Ji want to be when he grew up?

He said he wanted to be a barber. “What a wonderful goal for an eleven-year-old,” the mentor told him. “You can make good money and make a lot of people happy.” And he pointed out that his sister was a cosmetologist.

Fast forward to July 2016.

Sporting an Afro—and a warm smile—six-foot-tall Ji sits in the newly redone Talbot Mentors office in Easton and talks about his motivations and hopes for the future. “When I was in ninth grade I started to become interested in hairdressing,” Ji says. “I saw that I was able to notice and catch on to different styles and trends.” And he quickly found out that he had talent in this area. He now has a roster of a few local clients. During his 18-month training in New York, Ji will be living with his aunt, in Far Rockaway, Queens, and will travel to school by subway.

TM_2016_Djimon MageeWill Ji keep in touch with Dr. Brandon while he’s in New York?

“Of course. Most definitely!” is his answer.

Eventually—after his studies, the granting of his hairdressing license, and time spent working in an established salon—Ji plans to open his own unisex salon. He’s setting his sights on California. It is safe to say that his focus and determination can be linked to the support he’s received from caring adults along the way.

“Would I recommend that other kids get mentors?” Ji asks. “Absolutely.”

There’s more good news: All three of the Talbot Mentors high school seniors graduated this year. “Members of the Talbot Mentors family are so proud of our Class of 2016 graduates,” says Executive Director Natalie Costanzo. In addition to Djimon Magee, congratulations go out to Dre’Ona Dawson and Davey Arledge. “We wish them happiness and success in the next chapter of their lives,” says Costanzo. “Thanks go out to their mentors, too” she says. “They’ve offered tireless support and encouragement of their mentees. Heartfelt appreciation goes out to Susan Piggott, Jack Cook, and David Brandon—and all the other mentors in our program.”

“Time is the most valuable thing we all have,” says  Brandon. “If by obligating my excess time and energy to a child who can use it has in any small way improved his life, then I am pleased.”

The Talbot Mentors scholarships are made possible through special fundraising efforts and targeted donations, allowing the organization to give graduating students support and encouragement to pursue further educational opportunities.

For more information, to make a contribution, or to volunteer as a mentor, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999 or visit

It Takes a Village to Create a Youth Space

Benjamin Lewis cooking up a feast in the new Talbot Mentors Kitchen.
Benjamin Lewis cooking up a feast in the new Talbot Mentors Kitchen.

They say It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, well it also takes a village to create an inspiring space for the youth of Talbot Mentors.
With 75 mentor-mentee pairs now in the program, it was time for a full rehab of its outdated office space to improve functionality for both staff, students and mentors.
With renovations on the new center now complete, a grand opening was held on June 8, 2016. Natalie Costanzo, Executive Director is excited about the organization’s improved ability to provide an inspiring space for kids “to hang out and visit,” and to offer activities and lessons to enhance the students’ Talbot Mentors experience.
The renovation would have cost $20,000 but with the donated time and goods from the many businesses and individuals that helped, it only cost $3500.
We would like to thank the following businesses who donated their time, cash and/or goods: BJs, Conner Inc. Plumbing and HVAC, Jen Wagner Mosaics, Kitchen Creations, Lowes, RJ Electrics, Solidtops, Warren’s Woodwork, Will Shannahan and Willow Construction. In addition a special thanks goes to the Interior Designer Linda Featherman, Project Manager Jim Reed and Mike Gates all who are mentors with Talbot Mentors and volunteered their time and expertise. Many other individuals, including Talbot Mentors youth helped with the renovations.

Longtime Mentors Honored At Spring Brunch

Spring showers did not dampen Talbot Mentors’ celebration at the organization’s annual Spring Brunch fundraiser, held on May first at Talbot Country Club. Almost a hundred guests came out to support the organization dedicated to matching the youth of Talbot County with mentors who want to make a difference in their lives.

Honored at the Talbot Mentors Spring Brunch for their long service as mentors were, left to right, Bill Brashares, Lenny Gold, Gary Pearce, Herbert Andrew, Merrilie Ford and Don Cook.
Honored at the Talbot Mentors Spring Brunch for their long service as mentors were, left to right, Bill Brashares, Lenny Gold, Gary Pearce, Herbert Andrew, Merrilie Ford and Don Cook.

The event was sponsored by the Dock Street Foundation, Wells Fargo Advisors, and Wilmington Trust, with additional support from Talbot Mentors board members Martha Horner and Irene Schmidt and former board member Marykay Powell.

Pianist Abby Cureton provided musical accompaniment as guests enjoyed refreshments from the bar and bid on artwork, jewelry, gift baskets and other items donated to the silent auction. A blind wine bottle pick and raffle offered additional support opportunities.

Before dining, Board President Schmidt thanked guests and sponsors, and recognized the Talbot Mentors board members who guide the organization in its efforts. She noted the great strides recently made by the board in developing new mission and vision statements, along with a strategic plan to be completed this summer.

Pianist Abby Cureton provide musical accompaniment as guests mingled and bid on silent auction items before the brunch.
Pianist Abby Cureton provide musical accompaniment as guests mingled and bid on silent auction items before the brunch.

Schmidt explained the importance of the new plan, given the growth trajectory of Talbot Mentors. While there always have been more students in need of mentors than available volunteers, she said, “Now, we are getting new mentors every week.” The strategic plan will help focus the organization on the best way to grow and support the vision it has in support of the children of Talbot County.

One of the most important developments in the last year for the organization, said Schmidt, was bringing in Natalie Costanzo as the new Executive Director. Schmidt commended Costanzo for her drive and enthusiasm in moving Talbot Mentors forward.

Following the brunch, Costanzo focused on Talbot Mentors’ past by honoring six individuals for their long service as mentors. Those who received certificates of recognition from Costanzo and some of their past mentees were Herbert Andrew, who has been a mentor for 13 years; Bill Brashares, 13 years; Don Cook, 14 years; Merrilie Ford, 15 years; Lenny Gold, 17 years; and Gary Pearce, 13 years. Each has been a mentor to at least two children.

Commending the honorees, Costanzo said, “I’ve talked to their current mentees and some of their past mentees, and they mean the world to these kids. All of them are incredible.”

Both Schmidt and Costanzo emphasized the continuing need for more mentors and the rewards of volunteering time for the children.

Partners In Art Benefits Talbot Mentors Center For Kids

Every year, Talbot Mentors’ Partners In Art program matches its students with local artists who volunteer studio time to share their skills with the kids. This year, the organization literally brought the program in-house to benefit not only the students, but Talbot Mentors itself.

Left to right, Sacoya Williams and Doniya Crosland were among the students who worked with artist Jen Wagner to create Talbot Mentors’ new mosaic wall.
Left to right, Sacoya Williams and Doniya Crosland were among the students who worked with artist Jen Wagner to create Talbot Mentors’ new mosaic wall.

Planning a full rehab of its outdated office space to improve functionality for both staff and students, Executive Director Natalie Costanzo and the Talbot Mentors board decided to use this year’s Partners In Art program as an opportunity to let the students take part in the changes. A number of the artists and students used their projects to add fun and artistic touches to the renovations.

Josh Payne worked with metal artist Karen O’Dowd to create a sculpture of a shark eating a turtle, entitled “Sebastian Devours Celty,” which has been installed outside the Talbot Mentors’ front door. Jalyn and Jahza Barney worked with woodworker and mentor Mike Gates to create a wooden bench. It, too, has been installed outside, and Costanzo declares it so comfortable that she will be having her tea there every day.

Jahza Barney shows off the bench he made with woodworker Mike Gates for the Talbot Mentors renovations through the Partners In Art Program.
Jahza Barney shows off the bench he made with woodworker Mike Gates for the Talbot Mentors renovations through the Partners In Art Program.

The highlight of the artistic projects, however, is on view as soon as one enters the front door. An entire wall of the spacious activity room has been covered in a glass mosaic, designed and executed by students with the help of mosaic artist Jen Wagner. With “Welcome” spelled out in pieces of stained and mirrored glass, outlines of kids, and hidden surprises of dragonflies and birds, the piece is a vibrant greeting that expresses the organization’s celebration and support of the children of Talbot County.

These and the other students’ artworks were unveiled at a reception on April 23. Fifteen students worked with the nine artists participating in this year’s Partners In Art Program, which is sponsored by the Talbot County Arts Council, with funds from the Talbot County Council.

In addition to O’Dowd, Gates and Wagner, the other artists who worked with students were Deborah Colborn, Linda Featherman, Peg Papa, Kat Parsons, Jacquie Pfaff-Pratt and Heidi Wetzel. Other media included oil and acrylic painting, basket weaving, voice and music writing and more.

At the reception, students presented bouquets of spring flowers to their artist mentors. Costanzo added her thanks for their participation, noting, “You are all amazing, with the time and energy and passion you share with the kids.”

She gave special recognition to Jen Wagner, who Costanzo said came every week for almost six months to work with the children on the mosaic. Four students worked consistently on the project, with others occasionally helping out.

Some of the students and artists who participated in this year’s Talbot Mentors Partners In Art Program gather in front of the new mosaic created by students with the help of glass artist Jen Wagner. Left to right, Johnathan Storch, Mariah Sanchez, Deborah Colborn, Peg Papa, Jahza Barney, Kat Parsons (front), Sacoya Williams, Doniya Crosland, Mike Gates, Josh Payne, Karen O’Dowd and Heidi Wetzel.
Some of the students and artists who participated in this year’s Talbot Mentors Partners In Art Program gather in front of the new mosaic created by students with the help of glass artist Jen Wagner. Left to right, Johnathan Storch, Mariah Sanchez, Deborah Colborn, Peg Papa, Jahza Barney, Kat Parsons (front), Sacoya Williams, Doniya Crosland, Mike Gates, Josh Payne, Karen O’Dowd and Heidi Wetzel.

With renovations on the new center not yet complete, a grand opening will be scheduled for a later date. Costanzo is excited about the organization’s improved ability to provide a space for kids “to hang out and visit,” and to offer activities and lessons to enhance the students’ Talbot Mentors experience.

Talbot Mentors Teaches Serious Message Through Fun Afternoon

Sacoya Williams and Ty’Asia Johnson, from left, and Benjamin Lewis, right, shown here with Talbot Mentors Case Manager Javana Bowser, were among the students who heard about the harmful effects that smoking could have on their health. The students signed pledges to try to live smoke-free lives and not use tobacco products.
Sacoya Williams and Ty’Asia Johnson, from left, and Benjamin Lewis, right, shown here with Talbot Mentors Case Manager Javana Bowser, were among the students who heard about the harmful effects that smoking could have on their health. The students signed pledges to try to live smoke-free lives and not use tobacco products.

Talbot Mentors students recently learned a serious message during an afternoon of fun. About thirty students enjoyed a bowling party with their mentors, complete with pizza and raffle prizes, while also learning about the hazards of smoking. The party at Easton Bowl was funded by the Cigarette Restitution Fund of the Talbot County Health Department.

From Having A Mentor To Being A Mentor:
A Talbot Mentors Grad Pays Back By Paying Forward

“He’s me.” The day new mentor David Bowen met eight-year-old Connor Skinner, he instantly recognized himself in the boy. “He’s me. He’s just like I was,” he said.

Bowen was matched with his own mentor through the Talbot Mentors program in 2001 when he was in sixth grade and only a few years older than Connor. He is now 25 and has come back to volunteer as a mentor himself.

Even their early experiences in the program are similar. The first mentor each was matched with didn’t work out. Sometimes relationships don’t click right away, or circumstances may change for the youngster or volunteer. The Talbot Mentors staff makes sure that they find the right individual for each child in the program.

Bowen’s relationship with his second mentor, Herb Andrew, has lasted more than a dozen years. Now married, with a three-year-old son and another child on the way, Bowen considers Andrew more than just a mentor. “Mr. Herbie is family now,” said Bowen, although he still calls him “Mr. Herbie.”

David Bowen, left, had his own mentor through the Talbot Mentors program while growing up and now is volunteering as Connor Skinner’s new mentor.
David Bowen, left, had his own mentor through the Talbot Mentors program while growing up and now is volunteering as Connor Skinner’s new mentor.

Bowen may be on his way to becoming Connor’s Mr. Herbie. The two hit it off right away the day they met, getting into a beanbag toss game at the Talbot Mentors activity center, where Bowen threw in some math practice, encouraging Connor to add up the scores. Connor’s mother, Becky, noticed the increased confidence already evident in her son’s voice as they played. “They’re going to have a lot of fun together,” she predicted.

Looking for a positive role model for her sons, she brought Connor to Talbot Mentors after his older brother had a mentor through the program. Connor would always tag along when his brother came by the office.

Bowen is looking forward to sharing his favorite outdoor activities with Connor. He still is embarrassed when people recall how he taught his own mentor how to fish, at a pond on Andrew’s farm. Mentors often insist that they learn as much from the kids as the kids learn from them.

As an adult, Bowen can appreciate the patience Andrew showed with him as he helped his mentor around the farm. “I once dumped a whole bag of soybean seeds, but Mr. Herbie didn’t get mad,” he said. “I see now that it took a lot longer for him to do things with me ‘helping,’ but it was fun for me.”

He hopes his example will encourage more younger volunteers to decide to become mentors. “I know time is tough,” says Bowen, who works as an Easton Utilities cable installer and technician. “But it only takes an hour or two each week. You can go fishing or to a movie or even have him help you change the oil in your car. The best thing for me was just being able to get out of the house.”

His experience growing up in the Talbot Mentors program gives Bowen a unique opportunity to pay back the time shared with him by Andrew, while paying forward his own time to another youngster who can use the adult friendship. “I had Mr. Herbie,” he said. “If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I want to help at least one other.”

Herb Andrew, right, started off as David Bowen’s mentor, but Bowen thinks of “Mr. Herbie” as family now.
Herb Andrew, right, started off as David Bowen’s mentor, but Bowen thinks of “Mr. Herbie” as family now.

For more information, to make a contribution, or to volunteer as a mentor, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999 or visit

Copyright © 2016 by Talbot Mentors, Inc. Permission is granted to use any photos within this Press Release only for publication and not for sale or resale. All other rights reserved.