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Spotlight: John van Rens – Artist & Mentor

It all began with a story.  When long-time Partnership supporter and artist, John van Rens stopped by the offices on a sunny winter’s day, he told a charming story about a group of squirming teenagers he managed to get comfortable enough with during one of his Saturday religion classes so they “really started talking”.  In that moment, a light went off.  As part of an initiative to help students bridge the experience gap, the Partnership was looking to recruit mentors and volunteers: men and women willing to spend time with students outside the classroom and outside the school with the express purpose of widening their world view and their worlds.  As Director of Development and Communications, Cee Greene outlined the imagined program, John responded with a simple but firm, “I can do that.  Yes.  I’d really like to do that.”     And so the program was launched, or so she thought until the phone rang and John started a new line of inquiry.  He said, “You know Cee, I’ve been thinking, from where I live – all the way downtown – getting to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in Harlem is such a long way to go for just an hour or an hour and a half.” Cee’s heart sank that wasn’t the reaction she expected from one of the Partnership’s most ardent supporters.  Then came the real whammee as John continued,   “So I’m thinking I could stay another hour or so and also teach an art class to a small group of kids.  Since I’ll be there already, let’s make the most of it.”  By the end of the school year John had seen his five boys, Alexis I., Bryan P., Ricardo Y., Jose K., and Melvin C.  three times and hosted art classes for five other students.  He already has plans for September’s mentor group and art classes.  One of John’s secrets for success?  Snacks.   “By sharing a small meal at the beginning of the session”, John says, “gets the restlessness out of the way so the real work can begin.”