FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Remember when child love letters consisted of, "Will you go with me?" That kind of innocence is long gone for many kids. When one teenage boy started getting inappropriate kinds of letters from girls, his mom started a mentoring program -- for the girls.
Toni Cuttino has a lot to smile about now. Her mentoring program for middle school girls, SISTA, is one year old. SISTA stands for Successful Individuals Striving Toward Achievement.
"Love yourself and don't settle for less. Our motto is, 'You are worth more than that,'" she said.
Cuttino started SISTA after seeing the letters girls were writing to her then-14-year-old son.
"I couldn't believe it. I was like, 'What? I've never met girls who were so pushy, so aggressive,'" she said.
Cuttino knew the letters spelled trouble. She was 17 years old when she had her son. Now, Cuttino meets with the 18 girls in SISTA twice a month, covering the themes of no abuse, no dropouts, no babies and no drugs.
Cuttino also teaches them how to behave properly. She held a glass slipper ball last weekend.
Fayetteville police Officer Anthony Kelly said SISTA lit a fire under his daughter, Kaylicia.
"She didn't push herself in school until she got into this program," he said.
Kelly said it fills a big void.
"These girls are now getting the opportunity for somebody teach them how to be a lady or how to get into college and how to do a job interview," he said. "Now, they're getting those opportunities. And if it weren't for her, I don't know if they'd be getting them."
Cuttino said that when she launched this mentoring program, she had no idea it would grow to 18 girls. Her efforts are all volunteer, and it's all free to the girls. They have taken trips to New York to see a Broadway show and to Atlanta to visit a college campus. She said she hopes SISTA will one day be a household name like the YMCA.