Israel Alonzo and Abner Solano act like siblings, their conversations filled with plenty of good-natured teasing. They feel like siblings, too.
"I don't really see Abner as a mentor or a friend. I actually do see him like a brother," said Israel, 16.
He and Solano, 33, were matched about a year ago through Ignite Youth Mentoring, a Richland-based nonprofit that pairs local youths with adult mentors. Israel and Solano have built a strong relationship since they first bonded over a mutual affection for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
"I'm blessed to have Abner," said Israel, of Pasco. "I've been through a lot of people in my life, but I've never met somebody like Abner."
The teen spoke Monday during an event organized by Ignite Youth Mentoring to promote National Mentoring Month and highlight the local need for more mentors. Ignite began its work in 2008 and launched as a nonprofit in 2011.
It has more than 90 mentor matches, and its goal by 2015 is to have 200.
Todd Kleppin, executive director, said adults and kids in some ways live in different worlds. But, "kids simply want connection with others, like any of us do -- relationships, love, acceptance, encouragement, to be valued. That's what mentoring gets to do on such a grand scale, to bring value into kids' lives," Kleppin said.
The Tri-City area has many kids who could benefit from mentoring, he said, noting there are more than 20,000 youths living in single-parent homes, with their grandparents as sole guardians or in the foster care system.
Greg Fancher, an assistant superintendent in the Kennewick School District, and Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg, both spoke about the benefits of mentoring in the community.
Hohenberg told about how he received guidance from local police officers when he was a teen interested in the law enforcement field.
"(Mentoring) truly does create inspiration for young people and it also gives young people hope," Hohenberg told the crowd gathered for the event at the Richland Public Library.
Mentors also spoke about the rewards of being paired with a young person. "One of the coolest and neatest things I've ever seen in my life was the transformation of Bailey," said Art King of Richland, speaking of his mentee, Bailey McDowell, 16, of West Richland.
The pair were matched about four years ago, and during that time, Bailey has gone from a struggling student to one who excels and has college goals.
King said that, "Bailey thinks that he got a lot from me. I think got more from him."
"(Mentoring) is an incredible experience. None of this -- none of this was ever hard," King said.
Bailey and King spend time going to football and hockey games, grabbing lunch and just talking.
They said they plan to remain part of each other's lives for good.
It's the same with Israel and Solano.
On the surface, the two don't have much in common -- a high school student and a young dad balancing a career and a family.
But they have fun together.
They've taken karate classes, done chores like chopping wood, even shopped for Tupperware for Solano's wife. They riff off each other.
"That's one of the things that I've told (Israel) -- it's not going to be ending," said Solano, of Kennewick. "I want to see him get married. I want to see him graduate college. Whatever it is, I want to be with him throughout his life. He comes to my house and holds my little son.
He's going to be part of our lives."
More information about Ignite: 948-3143 or www.igniteyouthmentoring.com.
-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saraTCHerald