Scene Last Night: Griffin Seeks Male Mentors; DiDomenico

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Tonight, John Griffin of Blue Ridge Capital will pay tribute to Julian Robertson, his personal and professional mentor for more than 25 years.

A performance by Estelle and emceeing by Katie Couric are also planned at the sold-out benefit for iMentor, which is chaired by Hoplite Capital’s chief investment officer, John Lykouretzos (like Griffin, one of Robertson’s Tiger Cubs).

But none of it will be as important to mention the next day to colleagues and friends as the urgent call for 150 men to become mentors to low-income male students enrolled in New York public high schools.

The commitment is serious: iMentor’s volunteers follow a curriculum requiring six hours a month for three or four years - - half online and half in-person. There’s also the option to extend the relationship through college, which 40 percent of mentors are currently doing.

This “really long commitment to a single student” is most effective, iMentor Executive Director Mike O’Brien said by phone last night. “What we’ve found makes it work is that our mentors can provide the known supports the students need help on” -- things like applying to college and filling out financial-aid forms -- and “help students navigate all the unexpected challenges that arise between high school and college.”

Scaling Up

As long as iMentor can find suitable mentors, it wants to expand to 6,000 mentor/mentee pairs in 2018 from 3,500 today; that’s where you come in. It’s also opening an office in Chicago and sharing its model with other nonprofits, with the goal of 20,000 pairs nationally by 2018.

iMentor wants to scale because so many low-income kids lack a college degree. Just one in three can expect to enroll in university and only one in seven will earn a bachelor’s degree, according a study by Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit adviser on effective philanthropy.

“Mentoring is a critical way to help level the playing field,” Susan Ditkoff, co-head of the philanthropy practice at Bridgespan, who has worked with foundations and nonprofits on equity in public education, said by phone. “The best mentors give low-income kids access to a network of adults who really know how the system works, in addition to being a fun and caring presence over the years.”

The TEAK Fellowship is another model for mentoring, and had its own fundraiser last week.

Hand-Shaking Lessons

It aims to give a small number of high-achieving students the kinds of experiences and opportunities that their more privileged peers have. TEAK enrolls 30 sixth-grade public-school students as fellows, with the goal of sending them to private high schools. Almost immediately, the kids begin intensive coursework, including an introduction to Latin.

A full-time staff member works with fellows on their high school applications and financial aid forms. TEAK also secures internships and study-abroad experiences, as well as arranging Broadway tickets, museum visits, and parties where fellows learn how to shake hands.

Mentors enter the picture when TEAK fellows are in middle school. They’re expected to e-mail or phone their mentees a couple of times a month and see them in person six times a year.

Alumni of the program include David DiDomenico, co-portfolio manager at Jana Partners, and his mentee, Jia Ying Mei, who is now a digital project manager at Kirschenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners.

Awkward Introduction

At the fundraiser held at Lucky Strike New York, the duo shared their story, just after DiDimenico bowled a spare.

Mei, who immigrated with his family from China, said he has known DiDomenico since 2001. Their first meeting was at Neil’s Coffee Shop on 70th Street and Lexington, DiDomenico said.

“I had my first real coffee,” Mei said.

“I probably had a Coke,” DiDomenico added.

Mei recalls the conversation as being “a little awkward” as his mom’s English isn’t as fluent as her Chinese. “David was trying to make my mom comfortable.”

And so a beautiful friendship was born.

Mei spent Christmas Eve with the DiDomenicos; the pair skied together in Vermont. DiDomenico took Mei to his first Yankee game at the old Yankee Stadium, and Mei’s mom guided DiDomenico during dinners in Chinatown.

Ivy Grad

Then there was the squash lesson at the Harvard Club, which turned Mei into an enthusiast for racquet sports.

“He made me proactive,” Mei said. “He got me to apply to Princeton and Harvard.” DiDomenico had graduated from Harvard in 1992, but Mei picked Princeton and graduated in 2010.

Whatever the context or organizational framework of the mentoring, DiDomenico and Mei are certain proof of the positive bond that forms between mentor and mentee.

“We met before my first child was born,” DiDomenico said. “We grew up together.”

Now Mei is a mentor to a TEAK fellow. That makes DiDomenico a grand-mentor.

Others attending the TEAK event: Meredith Jenkins, co-chief investment officer of the Carnegie Corp., Henry McVey of KKR, Reed Rayman and Marc Becker of Apollo Management, and Talia Hall and Anne Brennan of Goldman Sachs. TEAK “is the one thing I go bowling for,” Brennan said.

(A previous version of this story was corrected for a typographical error.)

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