Organizers of a new Rogue Valley Manor mentor program say they're aiming to teach local students about the rarely mentioned benefits of attending a vocational or trade program.

Organizers of a new Rogue Valley Manor mentor program say they're aiming to teach local students about the rarely mentioned benefits of attending a vocational or trade program.

The Manor Mentors program for boys matches Rogue Valley Manor senior men with male teens from Medford's three high schools, according to program organizer Bob Abler.

Abler said the program targets boys who receive between a 2.0 and 3.0 grade-point average, many of whom would be considered "at-risk" youths, and encourages them to realize that there are more options than attending a four-year university after high school.

Abler, who is also a volunteer with South Medford's ASPIRE mentor program, said he noticed most of the students seeking mentors through the program were from supportive families and earned above a 3.5 GPA.

"There is this whole band of kids between the A's and the F's wandering around," said Abler.

Inspired by the Manor's Fairy Godmother scholarship program for girls, Abler set out last fall to start a mentor program for boys, targeting many students who may come from single-parent, low-income households.

In its first six months, Abler recruited nine senior mentors to match with nine students — three each from North, South and Central Medford high schools.

Abler said Rogue Valley Manor residents are unique candidates for mentoring young boys.

"These people are all brains. And we're all going to the grave, and we're not passing this along to other people," said Abler.

Abler said he remembers decades ago when many young men focused on becoming electricians, plumbers, carpenters and welders, attending a trade program and taking on an apprenticeship to begin a career.

He said that schools focus too much on getting kids into four-year universities, without recognizing the students who might fit better into a vocational program at a place like Rogue Community College.

"The benefit is not just to the kids, but to the community, as these are the kids most likely to stick around," Abler said.

Mentors meet with their students at least once a month and are trained through South's ASPIRE program to help students with important dates for filling out college admission and GED applications, financial-aid requests and other paperwork for students preparing for post-secondary education.

Abler said the students in the program are interested to hear about the work background of their mentors.

"There's such a magnitude of gifts that people here have," said Mary Lou Abler, Bob Abler's wife. "And they're eager to pass that on."

Abler reached out to counselors at each Medford school, who selected a few students who met the program's criteria.

"It is a bit different, but it's a good thing that they're trying to do," said Caroline Walker, the South Medford ASPIRE program coordinator.

Walker said counselors made suggestions of juniors who hadn't applied for ASPIRE mentors but who could use extra help in preparing for life after high school.

Abler said he is working to establish a scholarship fund through the Rogue Valley Manor Foundation that he hopes will reach $1 million and offer scholarships through annually accrued interest.

Abler said he donated some seed money for the fund and hopes community and business donations and Manor fundraisers can boost the total.

The Manor Mentor program hopes to give out as much as $40,000 in scholarships each year — provided the fund reaches $1 million — and will begin awarding some scholarships this year, Abler said.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or