Youth mentorship program thrives on community support – Williston Observer
Chris Stewart is reading with Connecting Youth mentee Braedon Minehart at WCS in a photo from a few years ago.
COURTESY PHOTO OF THE OBSERVER
By Susan Côté
In November, a program first launched at Williston Central School in 1999 will begin another year. The Connecting Youth Mentoring (CYMP) program is entering its 22nd year of pairing adult volunteers from the community of Williston with students in Grades 5-8 for one-on-one relationships.
This is not about academics or tutoring, these pairings are best described as special friendships between students and adults, who each commit to spending an hour a week together. How this time is spent depends on each pair, but often includes talking, playing, reading, and participating in craft or cooking projects. Students can apply to be included in the program and can also be referred by parents or school staff who believe a child will benefit.
In addition to weekly peer-to-peer meetings, in a typical year, i.e. before Covid, the program included a fall barbecue and a reading challenge that ends with an ice cream party. in the spring – events that include family members of students.
Nancy Carlson, Coordinator of Connecting Mentoring Youth, has led the program since 2002. In a recent presentation, Carlson explained that children who are engaged with a mentor are more likely to go to college, volunteer and to have a positive influence in their community. They are also more likely to become mentors to others and to take on leadership positions in their chosen fields. They even tend to have more positive relationships with their parents.
She notes that one of the keys to the program is reciprocity.
“Mentors amplify their mentees’ strengths, interests and best qualities. These relationships are also transformative for adults. These are two people who grow, learn and become their best together.
Chris Stewart first became a mentor several years ago at his mother’s request, after she herself started as a mentor 12 years ago. His wife Diane also serves as a mentor.
“As a man who has no children and whose nieces and nephews are adults, I love the connection with young people… learning what they know and what interests them.”
After participating in the program for a few years, Stewart, a general contractor who also makes furniture, was approached by Carlson to undertake a special project with a student. Stewart immediately agreed and together he and the girl built a sturdy maple table that now sits outside Carlson’s office.
“I like being a part of school and maybe giving something back. It feels good, “he said.” When I was a fifth or sixth grade boy, I would have given anything to have someone other than a parent or a teacher to talk to… It’s a wonderful way to connect with someone they can build a trusting relationship with.
“If I had to sum up the program in one word, it’s ‘fun,’ said Stewart.
Ruth Magill started as a mentor in 2011 and has had three mentees, a girl and two boys. She got along well with all three of them and said they each had a good sense of humor and enjoyed playing games. The girl wrote fictional stories which she shared with Magill. With the two boys, she baked cookies once or twice a month in the kitchen of the mentoring program.
“They thought I was a friend, and I felt the same about them,” Magill said. “I would encourage adults to do that, if you have the time to donate an hour a week. Nancy [Carlson] is very helpful in time planning and she is very good at matching interests. The matches for me have been perfect.
Angela Arsenault is thrilled to meet her first student mentee game this fall. “It’s like a gift coming to me,” she said.
Arsenault, who herself has two school-aged children, is currently the president of the CVSD school board. She first heard about CYMP from another school board member, Josilyn Adams, who is a mentor. Her daughter also relayed the positive feedback from another WCS student participating in the program.
The way she thinks about her role as a mentor is: “I’m not here to tell a child what they should be, who or how, but to be there to support their own self-discovery. “
“As a member of the school board, I am so happy and grateful to see a program like this thrive in our schools…. These are socio-emotional health, commitment, a sense of belonging. These are things that every student needs… before they can be available to learn.
“It’s a relatively short time commitment, but the impact can be large and long term. “
“Belonging to this community”
While volunteer mentors form the backbone of the program, Carlson also stressed the importance of other community supports.
“Rotary provided the magic sauce,” Carlson said. “The Williston-Richmond Club provides program funding, helps spread the word throughout the community and is the source of many stellar mentors. “
Rotary member Barbara LeWinter notes that investing in the mentorship program contributes to one of the organization’s goals, “to strengthen the capacity of communities to support basic education and literacy.”
LeWinter has been an active supporter for 16 years. After Carlson decided the program should have its own reading material, LeWinter, a former school psychologist, began researching book recommendations to match the social / emotional theme identified by Carlson each year, ensuring a selection of titles to match. at different reading levels and interests. The Rotary club also provides funds to purchase books for the program’s annual reading challenge and to provide gift certificates to students to purchase books of their choice at the Scholastic Book Fair.
Carlson also described the “tremendous” support from the school’s staff and faculty and the teachers’ spouses, as well as from local businesses that have sponsored events over the years. Until last year’s pandemic restrictions, Edge Williston offered a day each year for mentors and mentees to enjoy the pool and field facilities together.
“The beauty of this program is that it belongs to this community,” Carlson said.
Persevere during the pandemic
The absence of in-person school last year put a strain on the program’s operations. Nevertheless, “last spring… 17 eighth grade students stayed the course during this pandemic. They did whatever it took to connect with their mentor, ”Carlson said.
Magill and his mentee were among these couples. “We would meet outside when the weather was still good,” said Magill. “Eventually when the weather got really bad, Nancy made a space for us indoors where we could be alone and wear masks and we continued to do that. [many of] the things we’ve always done.
They were helping each other to cope. “Sometimes it was sharing the hardships… the students missed their friends, us adults, sharing similar situations and having this time to talk about it,” Magill said.
Through LeWinter’s efforts, Rotary funded a Scholastic Virtual Book Fair with books delivered to mentee homes.
Carlson describes this year as a year of rebuilding. There are 45 returning pairs and she expects to make plenty of new pairings with new and escalating returning mentors.
Her efforts will include making sure parents, students and mentors are comfortable with how pairs will stay connected, whether in person, outside or inside, or virtually via Google Meet.
While this isn’t predictable, “I think we have a wonderful year ahead,” Carlson said.