Administrators, staff and students at East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School welcomed Matilda Raffa Cuomo, founder of Mentoring USA and the wife of former governor of New York State, Mario Cuomo, on Dec. 13. Students in the school’s new Peer Leader Mentoring Program and the adult mentoring program greeted Cuomo in the school’s library, which was decorated in her honor.

Under the direction of Social Studies, Foreign Language and Languages Other than English Chairperson April Francis and social worker and transition coordinator Maureen Schutta, the Peer Leader Mentoring Program allows Honor Society students to develop their leadership skills while mentoring freshmen and sophomores. In addition, the school hosts the East Rockaway chapter of the New York State Mentoring Program, an adult mentoring program that connects students with outside community members. Both student mentors and mentees were present for the special occasion. 

Accompanying Cuomo on her special visit was Diane Urso, the regional coordinator for the New York State Mentoring Program who helped train the high school mentors. Sitting around a large table in the library, both Cuomo and Urso spoke with the mentors and mentees about the mentoring program, how it began in 1984 and the fulfilling impact that mentoring will make on their lives.  

“I hope that mentorship is the beginning of everybody’s civic responsibility,” Urso told students. “I feel that once you get bit by the bug, it’s a tough one to shake in the best way.”

Students shared their personal experiences and their hopes for the future while discussing their preferred colleges and universities with Cuomo. In return, she offered valuable advice to encourage students to succeed. 

“When you give, you get back,” she said. “Volunteerism means a lot.”

Amy Zaslansky, founder of The Book Fairies, was also present during the event and gifted the mentors and mentees with books to enjoy. The not-for-profit organization collects reading materials for people in need throughout metropolitan New York. 

The district was thrilled to have Cuomo speak to the students about the mentoring program and inspire them to volunteer their time to help others. 

“We’re thrilled to be a part of this program,” said Superintendent of Schools Lisa Ruiz. “We feel privileged to have Mrs. Cuomo visit our school and support our efforts to mentor our students in both the student mentor program and the adult mentor program. It’s something that aligns with our strategic plan.”