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Matilda Cuomo Breathes New Life Into Mentorship Program That Touched Thousands

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A mentorship program that changed the lives of thousands of students over the course of a decade is getting new life.

Matilda Cuomo -- the wife of former New York State Governor Mario Cuomo and mother of current Governor Andrew Cuomo -- touted the return of the New York State Mentoring Program.

"The self-confidence of the child, it's amazing how they develop," she told 1010 WINS's Juliet Papa.

The program was launched in 1984, and was prompted by high youth incarceration rates. Cuomo said the governor asked her to take the lead.

"Stop whatever you think you're going to do for the state," she said, "Whatever you wanted to do, this is more important. The children have to stay in school."

Cuomo told Papa the program uses one on one mentoring -- a concept that goes all the way back to the Trojans.

"A mentor, when they're trained they are going to be one to one with the child," she said, " Get a sense for the things that are going on in a child's life."

The one on one setting allows the mentor to get a closer look at the challenges the child is facing. When students become isolated, and feel like they don't belong, the mentor works to draw the child out, Cuomo explained.

Cuomo recalled becoming a mentor herself to better understand the task.

She recalled working with a girl who overcame a bad relationship with her mother to excel in school, become wildly popular among her peers, and eventually start a family while working in a high level job at the Albany medical center.

Cuomo and the woman are still in touch to this day.

"What they need is self-confidence, and also a recommendation, the push from someone around them," she said.

The program touched the lives of over 10,000 students from 1984 to 1994.

"It was a marvelous success, and then the next governor closed it out," she told WINS' Papa.

Reviving the program has not been without its challenges. Faced with difficulty finding volunteers who could take time away from work, Cuomo turned to high school students.

At Midwood High School in Brooklyn senior class volunteers mentor younger students in need of academic help, and assist incoming freshmen as they try to adapt to a new environment. The program is expanding statewide.

Cuomo's work as a mentor has also been the inspiration for a book. 'The Person Who Changed My Life' is a collection of stories of mentorship from a variety of backgrounds -- both Tony Bennett and Whoopi Goldberg are contributors.

"There's a child in all of us I guess," she said. "(The stories) They're all very different, and very personal, and very telling."

Anyone interested in volunteering can call 844 337 6304, or visit the New York State Mentoring Program online.

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