Philadelphia Futures executive director Joan Mazzotti, 56, a former corporate lawyer whose enthusiasm for her work is palpable, is convinced of the value of mentoring.

"It helps young people see a wider world. Mentors provide options, choices and the social network more privileged kids enjoy. They also create the expectation that the student will go to college. We need to have great expectations for all our kids."

Expectations can inspire and motivate, but they cannot protect. In April 2006, Tyrone Myers Jr., a Philadelphia Futures scholar who was only a few credits shy of graduating from Pennsylvania State University, was robbed and shot dead in North Philadelphia while home to attend a funeral.

"It was the first time something like that had happened in this program," Mazzotti says, "and a lot of people were moved and saddened by it because they think if a child gets into Philadelphia Futures they are somehow safe. But they are not. We can't keep them safe because they have to go home every night to their neighborhoods."

Raisa Williams, who was Myers' counselor at Philadelphia Futures, had known him since he was a ninth grader at William Penn High School.

"He was keeping his eye on the prize," Williams said at the time, "and the prize was the possibility of a future."

Williams, now dean of first-year students at Haverford College, remains a strong supporter of Philadelphia Futures, Sponsor-a-Scholar, and the value of mentoring.

"I think everyone needs to be involved," she says. "I think every single one of us has a place in our lives for these kids. You're not going to go in there and save them. But you can show them there's another possibility, another way."

- Art Carey