Bio: Jeff Utz grew up in northeast Pennsylvania. Utz attended the University of Scranton where he majored in biology and psychobiology; afterwards, he attended Hahnemann University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, studying medicine and neuroscience. Utz was a pediatric resident in Lansing, MI. Following that, he did some research at Hahnemann University, and then took a job as a software engineer at Juno Online Services in Times Square. Five years later, Utz entered the NYC Department of Education as a teaching fellow. Utz now lives in Brooklyn and is a middle school science teacher and chess coach at IS 223 - The Montauk and a robotics coach at PS 256.
Date you became a mentor:
What inspired you to get involved with CPNYC?
I had a positive experience as a mentor in a different program. The student aged out, and I wished to be a mentor again. CPNYC was located about 4 blocks from me, and I saw that I could really help one of their kids.
What is it like to be a mentor?
It has always been a lot of fun. It is also a big responsibility, both because I am responsible for a child’s well-being and because I want to make sure that I am a good role model for my mentee.
Share your most memorable moment as a mentor.
I took my mentee to Philadelphia where we had lunch with my godmother and some friends from medical school, went to the Franklin Institute and then hung out in fountains around City Hall. As we got back on the bus, my mentee said, “When are we coming back?” I knew then that he had a good day.
How has your mentee transformed in your time together?
He has matured a lot. When I first met him, he was getting in fights at school a lot. He doesn’t do that anymore. He does a good job of getting and staying in line, and has become a leader with the other kids.
What advice would you offer to future mentors?
The biggest thing you will ever give your mentee is your time and attention. Not things.
Kids are almost always thirsty and hungry. You may want to bring some snacks and drinks or get them on the way there.
The kids in the program have often had a lot of disappointments with adults not being there. Make sure you always show up when you are supposed to be with them and meet your commitments with them. When you say you are going to do something, do it.
Let your mentee be himself or herself and meet your mentee where he/she is.
Make sure your time together is time together. No distractions like electronics.
Listen to your mentee.
Do things your mentee likes to do, things you like to do and things both of you like to do.
Be a positive role model.
Remember that the relationship is about you and your mentee. It is not about the crimes that the parents committed, about the child’s family or how the child is doing in school. All of these things are important, but the focus is on the kid.
Always make get caregiver’s permission before doing anything and keep them informed.