MOUNT VERNON — January is Mentoring Month, and everyone involved with the mentoring programs through Children’s Connections agrees it is a win-win situation for both mentees and mentors.
The agency coordinates two mentoring programs for elementary pupils throughout Knox County: The Big Buddies program and the Lunch Buddies program.
The Big Buddies program teams up high school students and elementary school students one afternoon a week, and both Bigs and Littles develop self-confidence, compassion and friendships. Over 200 students participate each week at Columbia Elementary, Danville, Dan Emmett Elementary, St. Vincent de Paul, Fredericktown or East Knox.
When the News visited Columbia Elementary on Wednesday, the Big Buddies said it was a great experience to “hang out with little kids,” and the Little Buddies, like fifth-grader Troy Fisher, said the program is fun.
Mount Vernon High School senior Jennifer Postlewaite has been a mentor for two years. “I’m the youngest in my family,” she said, “and I love little kids. Whenever I get the chance to help, it’s great.”
Her little buddy Cierrah Calbert, grade five, likes being in the program with Jennifer.
“You get to do your homework with your buddy,” she said, “but you don’t have to. You get to bond with them and have fun. I don’t have an older brother or sister and this makes me feel like a better person.”
Reneé DuMont, a sophomore, mentors Troy Fisher.
“I don’t have any little brothers, so this kind of makes me feel like a have a little brother of my own,” said Dumont. “It makes me feel good to help him with homework and just talk with him.”
Dominick Hicks, grade five, likes the homework help he gets from his mentor Sam Metcalf. “I was having trouble with my fractions homework and Sam helped.”
Sam has two older sisters, so he likes having the chance to have a little brother.
“It makes me feel better as a person, because I’m helping him with things,” said Sam. “It’s just fun to bond with him.”
The Lunch Buddies program matches an adult with an elementary school child, and, after passing a BCI background check, the adult spends one lunch period a week with the child. Between 25 and 30 mentors eat lunch with a child at Dan Emmett, Columbia Elementary, Fredericktown, Pleasant Street Elementary or Wiggin Street Elementary. The entire Kenyon College men’s lacrosse team participated last semester, and this semester the Ladies soccer team has volunteered.
With three grown sons of his own, Mark Blanchard started as a Lunch Buddies mentor in Fredericktown in the spring of 2009.
“I personally had a great upbringing,” Blanchard said. “I had great parents, and my older sister Beth watched out for me. I always had a strong line of communication with my family. I just have a passion to give back what I was given myself. I want kids to know that there is a wonderful world out there. This is the reason I got into mentoring. A lot of kids just need someone to talk to. Sometimes I think your best assets can be your ears, if you just listen.
“It’s an hour a week and I have a good time: Seeing the kids smile, seeing the kids, laugh, just trying to make their day a little bit better. At recess, we [Blanchard and his buddy] were playing a lot of one-on-one sports like basketball horse or whatever it was. As the year progressed, other kids would join and the next thing you know you’re are playing with a bunch of them. Next thing you know you’re kind of a cheerleader, just sitting back and letting them be kids.”
Blanchard would encourage other adults to also become a mentor as one of his own sons has done.
“You take a lunch every day anyway,” he said. “Why not spend it with a child? Give it a chance. You will learn that you will like it and look forward to it. There’s a lot of great kids out there. ... You can certainly make a difference. We’re mentoring the future of our community, our country. They are going to be our leaders some day. They’re going to be the ones most likely taking care of us some day. You have to invest in our kids.”
That investment does make a difference, said program director Gail Lyall.
“I think it’s the fact that the Little Buddies have someone in their life that they can trust, who listens to them, who really gets what they’re saying and accepts them,” Lyall said. “We’ve seen tremendous differences in that one hour a week.”
Those differences carry over into other parts of the children’s lives. The schools provide data to Lyall, and have reported a 62 percent improvement in the Little Buddies’ social behaviors such as having manners, being respectful of others and not talking out of turn, said Lyall.
“We had a 52 percent improvement in behavioral issues,” she continued. “And we had a 42 percent plus improvement in reading, math and grade point average. That’s awesome.”
A nonprofit entity, Children’s Connections is certified through the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services. It is entirely supported through donations, grants, foundations and fundraisers. Rock ’N Bowl Fest, to be held Feb. 27 at Colonial City Lanes, offers lane or sponsorship opportunities in addition to the chance to bowl on a four-member team.
For more information about mentoring, donating to the program or Rock ‘N Bowl, call Children’s Connection at 740-397-8733.