Broker Richard Patenaude likes to reach out. That's why he said yes to a four-year commitment to mentor Christian Kennedy, helping him grow from humble high school freshman to confident senior.
Patenaude's branch manager at Salomon Smith Barney in Alexandria, Va., introduced him to Capital Partners for Education, the group that matched Patenaude and Kennedy in 1999. The program helps low-income children by providing mentors and scholarships to private Washington, D.C., area high schools. Sixty-five kids are participating this year.
The idea fit Patenaude's altruistic bent. He and his wife, Blythe, have welcomed foster children into their home, and Blythe founded an organization to help at-risk women.
“I believe that we have a responsibility to give something back for all the blessings we receive on a daily basis,” he says.
Patenaude now counts his involvement with Kennedy among his blessings. He describes the sophomore at Archbishop Carroll High School as a bright and personable young man.
School is first priority in their relationship. Working to prepare Kennedy for college, Patenaude fields all sorts of questions and monitors his grades. Kennedy has a 3.5 grade point average and enjoys English and Spanish class the most.
During his freshman year, Kennedy's only sore spot was algebra, so Patenaude got him a tutor through nearby Catholic University. Each week an engineering major helped the boy untangle x and y equations. Kennedy says the assistance was invaluable. “That's what mentors are supposed to do — help through the challenges,” Patenaude adds.
The two have a modern relationship. “He's busy and I'm busy, so we e-mail each other,” Patenaude says. Kennedy likes using the computer. “He cruises around on the Internet a whole lot better than I do,” Patenaude says. That's great, since Kennedy thinks he wants to enter the technology field after college.
“He's helping me find out more about my interest in computers,” Kennedy says. “I talked to someone at his office and followed that person around.” And to inspire Kennedy, Patenaude clipped out a Wall Street Journal article on the money tech-savvy kids are making in the computer biz.
The two share more than just an academic connection. Kennedy spends the occasional weekend at Patenaude's home. And Patenaude's kids, Christopher, 10, and Angela, 8, think it's great fun to have a big “brother.” The group rents movies, goes to the pool and munches pizza.
Patenaude and Kennedy also get together one on one. “Every time we go out he introduces me to so many things in the world,” Kennedy says. They talk about news events and share a passion for music.
Kennedy plays a mean alto saxophone, serves as band major for the marching band and sings his heart out in the gospel choir at school. Patenaude is a jazz fanatic. He introduced Kennedy to jazz greats John Coltrane and Milt Jackson.
Another key influence on Kennedy is his grandmother, Delores Justice, who is raising him. She and Patenaude trade ideas about his development. “Sometimes I'm concerned that he's not spending enough time on schoolwork, but she says his outside activities help him socialize,” Patenaude says.
Kennedy is thankful for the guidance he gets from both. “She stays right on me, tells me to be aware and gives me helpful hints to go by in life,” Kennedy says. “Since my father's not around, he's my father figure. … He's been a great help.”