January has been designated National Mentoring Month.
Lisa Weaver coordinates an after-school tutoring program at McKinley Elementary School sponsored by the Wood County office of the West Virginia Children’s Home Society. There are currently 30 children in the program.
“It gives them a great deal of satisfaction to work with the kids and contribute to their academic success,” Weaver said of the mentoring role.
Jean Phillips is a mentor with the Mothers Of Preschoolers (M.O.P.S.) group meeting at Emmanuel Baptist Church. The program started about six years ago. The M.O.P.S. program provides mentors for both the children and parents. There are currently about 50 mothers and about 75 preschoolers in the program.
A retired teacher and counselor, Phillips emphasized the importance of a long-term relationship with a mentor.
“I think the goal of the mentors in the M.O.P.S. program is to be an example to the moms that they can get through this. I tell the parents it’s important to enjoy the stage their child is in at that moment. Giving them a sense of hope, helping with directions, and encouragement, being a role model. Being a role model is a heavy burden, but in reality that’s what I think a mentor is,” she said.
“Being a mentor keeps me young and I truly believe in all my years in education, the relationship between child and parent is an incredibly important foundation and this program just gives me an opportunity to see that and to reinforce that, to assist with that,” Phillips said.
Earl Lucas is director with the the local chapter of Kids Hope USA, a national mentoring program which partners with area churches and local public schools. Lucas directs the program at South Parkersburg Baptist Church, which places its mentors at Martin Elementary School. Lucas said there have been as many as 20 mentors at the school.
“It’s a simple motto: one church, one school, one hour, one week. The kids count on those mentors being there. They work on social skills, academic skills, emotional problems, whatever the need might be, the teachers recommend the children that could benefit from the program. We contact the parents to see if they would like to enroll their child. We provide a structured training course with the mentors. This is our third year,” Lucas said.
“Research shows 96 percent of the children involved in a mentoring relationship like this have benefited in the classroom. The children need a stable atmosphere, and that is what we provide. We feel the key to making the difference is that one hour every week,” he said.
Lucas, who is a retired elementary school principal, said he missed the kids.
“I got involved with this program because I love kids. I missed the contact with the kids.”
Lori Ullmann-Wright was talent show coordinator at a local elementary, and through her volunteering became a mentor to one of the students. She has maintained that relationship into the student’s high school years.
“She’s still with me, we talk about stuff at school. I talk with her family. You know sometimes it seems difficult to find the time for one more thing, but that one thing is so incredibly worth it,” Wright said, adding the mentoring relationship is a two-way street. “She’s been supportive of me when I’ve had problems, with encouraging notes or phone calls. You know, sometimes it’s just about being there,” she said.
Jennifer Dillard, mentor with a summer reading/nutrition program for low-income kids, said the rewards of mentoring are many.
“The time spent helping a child is very precious and rewarding,” she said.
The Wood County 4-H program also makes use of mentors.
“Youth need to develop relationships with older youth and caring adults who serve as positive role models,” said Jodi Smith, West Virginia University Extension agent and 4-H coordinator in Wood County.
“Mentors encourage younger youth to stay involved in programs, teach new skills, and give them support and positive reinforcement. In our summer camps we have been trying to include a mentoring program. Last year we had fewer children leave camp homesick and I believe this is because we assigned mentors to first-year campers,” Smith said.
The Volunteer Action Center in Parkersburg acts as a clearinghouse for volunteer/mentor activities. For more information on those opportunities and programs, call the VAC at (304) 424-3457.
Contact Pamela Brust at email@example.com
Photo by Wayne Towner
Shauna Davis, left, helps a group of McKinley Elementary School students with homework projects after school. She is assistant program coordinator for the Children's Home Society of West Virginia after-school program at McKinley.