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Graduation 2011: Olympic senior overcomes hurdles, graduates with help from a mentor

Olympic High School senior Jordan Ferraro sits on a bench that he built at home. Ferraro was under the mentorship of Pastor Sam Rachal for the last four years and will graduate Saturday at the Kitsap Pavilion.  - Mike Baldwin/staff photo
Olympic High School senior Jordan Ferraro sits on a bench that he built at home. Ferraro was under the mentorship of Pastor Sam Rachal for the last four years and will graduate Saturday at the Kitsap Pavilion.
— image credit: Mike Baldwin/staff photo

Jordan Ferraro used to be a shy kid.

Before last week’s prom, the Olympic High School senior had never attended a school dance. Ferraro just needed the courage to ask out his friend, Epiphany Nick, to the event, so he asked for help.

Pastor Sam Rachal, Ferraro’s mentor for the last four years, his go-to guy, was there for him.

“He tried to light the fire by telling me not to be afraid,” Ferraro said. “He told me to go ahead and overcome that fear and be willing to ask.”

She said ‘Yes’ to Ferraro.

It was another breakthrough for Ferraro, who has looked for guidance from Rachal on topics like school, girls and career choices from the retired pastor since the two were paired up in a mentoring program offered by the Central Kitsap School District.

Ferraro first met Rachal in the ninth grade at Fairview Junior High School, where he was one of a group of boys the pastor mentored. When Ferraro left Fairview for Olympic, his family asked that he stay with Rachal, this time one-on-one, and both have shared a special bond since that point.

“Jordan has his own mind, he just needed some encouragement as to who he is as a person,” said Rachal, a retired pastor formerly of the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Bremerton.

The two met every Thursday at lunch for a half-hour that included Rachal checking Ferraro’s grades and asking if the Olympic student was in need of help.

For Ferraro, having another adult role model involved with his life made a difference in his grades and social life.

“It’s good my family cares about what I do, but it’s also good to know that someone else cares just as much about where I’m going in life and what I’m trying to achieve,” Ferraro said. “I had a mentor to help be the eyes and ears of my high school life outside my direct family.”

Marnie Ferraro, Jordan’s mother, said she wanted her oldest son to have another positive adult influence in his life. She also has three younger sons, all at Woodlands Elementary.

The mother of four boys added that it’s crucial for her oldest son to have someone he could lean on outside the family.

“Sometimes, kids just want someone else to talk to,” Marnie Ferraro said. “They need someone who is more objective than their parents who can offer some insight that we haven’t thought of. We provide the foundation, but also instilled the idea for our boys to think for themselves.”

The value of having a stable, positive adult in the lives of children is vital to success, said Rosalie Duryee, marketing coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound.

Although Ferraro and Rachal were not paired through that program, they still share a relationship that mimics those in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

Duryee said Tuesday that having adult role models in the lives of young adults has been advantageous for teenagers in their program.

She added that the longer a “little” is paired with a “big” brother or sister, the more likely the two are poised for success.

“From our research, a high percentage of ‘littles’ credit their ‘bigs’ for them having better self-esteem, pursuing higher education and making good choices in general,” Duryee said.

Jordan Ferraro agreed with his mother that he needed additional guidance, but he was initially worried about his friends’ reactions. He was worried the mentorship would send the wrong message.

“I thought they would assume I was getting off drugs because I have a mentor,” Jordan Ferraro said. “That wasn’t the case, I don’t do drugs or drink, I just needed someone to help me academically wise and with life skills.”

One of Jordan Ferraro’s best friends, Olympic senior Chris Lozada, never misinterpreted the mentorship. The two have been buddies since the seventh grade, and Lozada noticed the changes in his friend.

“As he got to know everyone else and Rachal, he’s really opened up and been easy to talk to,” Lozada said. “He’s in the crowd more, socializes more and he’s not afraid to say what’s wrong or what’s right about something.”

Once he shook off the early anxiety, Jordan Ferraro and Rachal hit it off.

Jordan Ferraro’s main obstacle he wanted to conquer in high school was math. He said he struggled with pre-calculus, expressing frustration when he would meet with Rachal at lunch.

Once again, Rachal was there to guide him.

“He wanted to excel but then he would get down on himself,” Rachal said. “I told him, ‘Jordan, you’re there to learn. If you knew everything, you wouldn’t be in the classroom.’”

But Jordan Ferraro, 18, and Rachal, 76, didn’t always connect.

Jordan Ferraro said there were times when he didn’t agree with everything the pastor was offering, adding that he was not sure he needed a mentor anymore once his grades improved.

Meanwhile, Rachal couldn’t understand Jordan Ferraro’s love for golf. Jordan Ferraro is a former golf player for Olympic, but the pastor thought the game was “boring.”

The two overcome their differences by emphasizing what they had in common – their Christian beliefs.

“Our beliefs kept us together,” Jordan Ferraro said. “The fact that neither one of us was arrogant or wanted to prove we were better than the other went a long way. It was a friendship.”

A recent concern for Jordan Ferraro was his future. Like most teenagers, the senior was trying to decide what to do with his life.

Rachal, a retired master sergeant with the Army, helped Jordan Ferraro reach a decision. And when Jordan Ferraro introduced the idea of piloting jets for a living, the pastor had one response.

“He said I should go for it,” Jordan Ferraro said. “He really cared for what I was going to be doing in my life.”

Jordan Ferraro, who will graduate Saturday, plans to attend Olympic College next fall. He wants to earn an associate’s degree in applied sciences before transferring to Central Washington University in two years.

At Central Washington, Jordan Ferraro said he plans to join the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. He wants to become a commissioned officer before becoming a pilot. His father, Desmond Ferraro, is a former sailor with the Navy.

Jordan Ferraro’s family, and Rachal, will attend the graduation ceremonies at the Kitsap Pavilion.

“It feels good to have people that have helped me and raised me through life, see me finish a big step,” said Jordan Ferraro, who added that he will keep in contact with Rachal when he attends college.

“Without that support, I would still be here, but I would have different views on life and different standards of success. And I wouldn’t be going to prom,” he added.

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