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Comedian Michael Pritchard performs in Petaluma Jan. 10 in celebration of National Mentoring Month

It?s no surprise that Pritchard is lending his humor to celebrate National Mentoring Month with a show hosted by Mentor Me Petaluma at St. Vincent?s church on Jan. 10.

?He?s donating his time to us,? said Val Richman, executive director of Mentor Me Petaluma. ?He believes in the work we do. We?re thrilled to have him.?

Pritchard began his career on both the comedy stage and as a juvenile counselor in San Francisco?s Youth Guidance Center. In 1980, he won first place in the San Francisco International Stand-Up Comedy Competition as well as winning the prestigious California Probation Officer of the Year award.

?We always like to do something special for mentoring month and want to celebrate and appreciate our mentors as well as hopefully recruit new ones,? said Richman. ?In the past, we?ve had guest speakers at an event held at the library, but I often have thought it would be fun to have a really interesting and dynamic celebrity guest.?

Last year?s Mentor Me Petaluma event featured retired NFL player, Honor Jackson. ?He was creating a brand new mentoring program in Rohnert Park at the time and it was just a perfect fit for us last year,? said Richman. ?It was cool having him.?

Pritchard has been featured on CNN, NBC?s ?The Today Show,? ?The Tonight Show,? CBS? ?Sunday Morning? with Charles Kuralt, Time magazine and People magazine. His seven educational series for PBS and distribution has been seen by millions and focuses on youth guidance in the areas of violence prevention.

Forming Heartland Media, Pritchard continued his work with youth with the videos ?Red Ribbon Week? and ?PeaceTalks,? teaching students to make positive choices. ?SOS: Saving Our Schools from Hate and Violence,? featured in both Time magazine and on CNN, was filmed after the shooting at Columbine. His new series ?Lifesteps? works to build the social and emotional intelligence in youth and has already received the Parents Choice Award.

?This year, it turns out that one of our staff members? brothers knows Michael Pritchard,? said Richman. ?I saw him speak a year ago at a mentoring conference and he does a wonderful mix of stand-up comedy and bringing it back to how youth need more support. One minute your stomach hurts from laughing and the next you?re in tears.?

Mentor Me Petaluma was founded eight years ago at McNear Elementary School when a group of concerned parents, teachers and community members noticed that some students were falling through the cracks. State budget cuts to schools in the mid-1990s left a lack of support and guidance for many students whose life circumstances put them at risk.

After 18 months of research and fund-raising, Mentor Me Petaluma was launched in 2001 with three mentorships the first year. By 2003, there were 35 mentorships at McNear and other Petaluma schools were asking if the program could expand to their sites.

?We have about 150 mentorships in place right now,? said Richman. ?We?re at 14 schools, and at last count, have 80 kids ages 5 to 16 on our waiting list. Our goal is to one day have a mentor center in all 25 Petaluma schools and to have a waiting list of mentors rather than a waiting list of kids.?

Richman said that Pritchard?s performance serves as a thank you to its current mentors as well as a means to attract new ones. ?This event is free and open to the public,? she said. ?We?re going to give a little talk about Mentor Me Petaluma and hopefully recruit some new mentors.?

She said that to become a mentor, all someone needs is a desire to help youth.

?You don?t have to be a college graduate,? said Richman. ?All you need is a positive attitude and a desire to be a supportive friend to a Petaluma young person.?

The show with Michael Pritchard begins at 7 p.m. Jan. 10 in St. Vincent?s Parish Hall, corner of Western Avenue and Howard Street. Admission is free. The public is welcome to attend.

For more information, call 778-4798 or visit www.mentormepetaluma.org.

(Contact Yovanna Bieberich at yovanna.bieberich@argus courier.com)

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