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Mentoring Matters: Former UM Football Player, Now Mentor 'Pays It Forward'

MIAMI (CBSMiami) - When one South Florida young man found himself homeless on the streets of Fort Lauderdale, he knew there was one person he could call for help-- his mentor.

Their special bond is a product of "paying it forward."

"Your personality, your energy. That makes people gravitate to you," Jacob Charlton explained to his mentor, A.J. Donaldson.

In fact, Charlton has gravitated to Donaldson over the last few years.

"At first I thought he was all talk. But I think, 'Hey, I can follow this guy.' He definitely helped me with my first full semester of college," Charlton explained.

The pair met a few years ago when Charlton was a senior in high school.

Donaldson's "EPIC Foundation" offered Charlton a $1,000 scholarship for college.

But the help and their bond did not end there.

"It's funny, he says 'I thought he was all talk.' You look at these adults that are technically all talk. I was of that same mindset as a young man. But my mom always told me 'Be who you needed to be when you were younger.' And who I needed is who I've become. And I've done that purposely," Donaldson tells CBS 4's Lauren Pastrana.

Donaldson, a former University of Miami football player, says he learned from various mentors in his life.

So, he wanted to pay it forward.

A graduate of a small private high school, he noticed a need for mentoring students who may otherwise fall through the cracks.

"There are children in these private schools on McKay Scholarships and Step Up Scholarships and they didn't come from homes that could afford these schools, but they're there anyway," Donaldson said. "They're still coming from low socio-economical areas but they're not being supported."

He created "United Mentors" to offer academic tutoring, and that led to E.P.I.C.-- Experienced Professionals Impacting Communities-- a foundation designed to provide mentoring and scholarships to students across South Florida.

That's how he met Charlton at Northwest Christian Academy.

But one day, Charlton needed some extra help.

He had been living at a shelter, but a medication mix-up got him kicked out and he wound up on the street.

"He calls me and tells me what's going on. To find him on the street with his luggage. I asked, 'What would happen, where you gonna go?' He points out an abandoned home because that was his only option," Donaldson recalls.

"For him to come in and provide that support to share that burden, that's what he's basically doing, and to provide me with guidance in a state of crisis, your mind can be in so many different places. But because he was there, I didn't spiral," Charlton said.

Jacob is now back on his feet, working and going to school.

He'd like to become a journalist but says "mentor" will definitely be among his future titles.

"I have the belief that there are people out there that actually care about the youth," Charlton said.

"We don't have to be reactive, we have to be proactive," Donaldson added. "I feel mentoring is a proactive solution to a lot of the issues we are having as a society as a whole."

The E.P.I.C. Foundation is hosting its annual gala this Saturday, September 28th. There's still time to get involved to make a difference in a child's life.

Click here for more information.

If you are a mentor and would like to share your story with us, please email us at

Click here for more Mentoring Matters.

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