Local mentor program assists youths in need
Published: Friday, September 20, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 20, 2013 01:09
The Wildcat Youth Mentors program has helped numerous area youths considered at risk to drop out of school get on a path to graduate high school since its inception in 2003.
Founder and President of Lifewise of Community Projects, Bruce Montville, created the program to “plant the seed that graduation is an expectation and also to make [the mentees] feel like they belong.”
The goal of the program is to provide a path of self-esteem for high school students, leading to their graduation.
The program pairs a student from here at the university with a mentee from a surrounding middle school or youth program, usually when they are in fifth through eighth grade. The program currently has approximately 100 mentor-mentee pairs in 12 local schools and youth programs.
Prospective mentors fill out a sheet detailing their likes, dislikes and what kinds of activities they would be willing to participate in. They are then paired with a child with similar interests through a guidance counselor at the middle schools.
The program is then designed with a weekly, hour-long session in which the mentee is given the opportunity to confide in the mentor, play board games, go on walks or get assistance organizing their schoolwork to help them improve their social skills as well as their grades.
“It was an outlet for his problems, but he grew to become more honest with himself and became mature knowing how to handle the tough times,” mentor Alison Ritrosky said.
“It puts yourself in their shoes and lets you see the world through their eyes,” mentor Rick Keogh said.
Setting a good example can go a long way in a mentee’s attitude and behavior in and out of the classroom. The program’s focus on building character and self-esteem has been highlighted on numerous occasions.
“Something as simple as listening can become therapeutic for these kids, and we create an environment that is safe, confidential and judgement-free,” Montville said.
“We always start by making sure [the mentees] know we are here to help them,” mentor Kevin Halpin said.
Ritrosky reiterated this point of the program, stating, “individualized attention helps them by letting them know someone cares, and that kind of support is good for anyone.”
The focus on becoming more social and empowered, even from a young age, is evident in the program.
“[My mentee] would bottle things up and then after a while it would just be too much,” Ritrosky said. “We worked on coping with his feelings, how to deal with his emotions and how to problem solve.”
Halpin noted that “the types of activities weren’t very structured and we would let the mentee choose what he or she wanted to do during the hour. Sometimes it was schoolwork, sometimes a walk around the school or other times just a discussion.”
The benefits of the program aren’t limited to just the mentees. Mentors such as Halpin and Morel, both English teaching majors; found that the program would be a great thing to add to their resumes. Both also saw this as a great opportunity to connect to the community.
Ritrosky saw this as a preview of her job and an opportunity to work with kids as she works towards her master’s degree in education.
Keogh and Halpin were drawn in by the program’s association with Tau Kappa Epsilon as a way to give back to their surrounding areas.
“It put me in a position I’ve never been in before, but it was the different viewpoint that put things in perspective,” Keogh said.
The end results, or in other words, the new beginnings for the students, were taken with overwhelming positivity from middle school teachers, guidance counselors and mentors alike. The mentees all showed newfound courage and self-confidence in their own abilities.
“At first [my mentee] was hesitant to say very much to me, but as time went on she became more comfortable and I saw her making a lot of new friends on her own,” Morel said. “She even painted her nails and was super excited to show me.”
Halpin reminisced about a moment in which all of the time spent came to a memorable peak.
“I went to [my mentee’s] school play and he was so happy when he came off the stage he hugged me and was in tears, and that was a moment I will fondly remember,” he said.
Current mentors also encourage anyone who is willing to become a mentor to do so.
“At first [my mentee] would casually walk down the halls to see me, and over time the walks became a frantic race,” Halpin said. “[The program] is very educationally and emotionally exciting.”