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First Niagara Bank Donates $1 Million to Middle School Mentoring Programs

Ty’wann Martin, a 7th grader, gripped the microphone, popped up from his seat and sauntered up to the front of the room filled with CEOs and executives from the United Way and First Niagara Bank Thursday.

“Hi, my name is Ty’wann, and I go to Pittsburgh Schiller,” he declared. “And when I get older, I would like to be an NBA player.”

He and a group of students from Schiller and Pittsburgh Classical Academy Middle Schools are part of the United Way of Allegheny County mentoring program.

First Niagara Bank announced Thursday a donation of $1 million towards mentoring programs throughout Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, $125,000 of which was presented to the one that helps Ty’wann.

Damon Bethea, Project Mentoring Director, said the donation will help them grow the program.

“We’ll continue to do some program enhancements, helping students to take field trips to high schools in the city and maybe get exposed to those opportunities, providing more chances for them to maybe go to different work sites and other places to learn more about careers,” Bethea said. “And ultimately just helping to connect more volunteers with students who need caring adults.”

Ty’wann said the field trips are his favorite part of the program, and they even helped him enjoy science, which is the subject he struggles with the most.

“In mentoring program we did a science experiment at the Phipps’s Conservatory, and I started to like science and how if you put Mentos in a pop, it explodes and how the molecules and everything joins together,” the 13-year-old said.

Bethea said the program is in its sixth year and aims to help prepare middle school students for the future.

“Helping those students to navigate middle schools, talk about careers, the importance of going to school, their academics, their future aspirations and dreams, even discussions about the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship opportunities,” Bethea said. “So mentors really spend a lot of time helping their students to figure out some of the goals and dreams they have in life.”

The United Way is aiming to mentor 430 students in the Pittsburgh region this year, but the nonprofit only has 300 adults signed up and is calling for more. Six First Niagara employees signed up Thursday.

Patricia Sommers, a former mentor, said the program is rewarding for both the mentors and the students.  She said she and her student would sometimes read books together.

“So I would go to the library, I would get a book for me, I’d get a book for her – the same book we decided we’d read together,” Sommers said. “And then over the course of a couple of weeks, we would read the book, we would talk about the characters in the book, we would talk about something that’s interesting to the both of us.”

As for Martin? He said he’d like to become a doctor if a basketball career doesn’t work out.