The first Mentor Celebration for One Wyoming 1 on 1 not only showed appreciation to volunteers but revealed some undeniable facts about this grassroots effort – it’s actually working!
According to mentee surveys taken in the spring of this year that include students from Godfrey-Lee, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville and Wyoming schools, over 84 percent say they enjoy being a part of the Mentoring program. The majority of students went on to state that having a mentor helped them in school, helped them learn new things, and makes them feel comfortable talking about things, both good and bad.
Jack Ponstine, executive director, asked the mentors, “Do you appreciate this as a pat on the back? You should. We’re making something work here!”
The One Wyoming 1 on 1 Mentoring Initiative was launched on February 2, 2012 through a collaborative effort of city, school, church, and business leaders of Wyoming at Grace Bible College. Their goal is to train 1100 mentors to serve 10 percent of the students in the city to help them develop an affirming vision of themselves and their future. To date, the organization has approximately 492 mentors in place to finish out the 2013-2014 school year.
“I’m a ‘glass is half full’ kind of guy,” says Ponstine. “I think that’s awesome!”
Ponstine admits the group is actually glad they didn’t meet their goal this year. “It’s given us time to get more organized and work out the processes for mentoring. We have a good solid foundation now to build on and are more prepared to take on an additional 500 to 800 new mentors.”
The number of additional mentors is expected to climb before the start of school next fall as both Gordon Foods and Spartan Foods announced their participation in the program. Exciting news for the 40 or more mentors attending this first celebration as they unanimously agree that more children need their help. The one hour per week for one year commitment has some saying, it may not be enough. Many are ready to volunteer more of their time to their kids.
“Think of the loss these kids have had,” one mentor suggested. “With the school year ending, do they think they are losing us too? We need to assure them we are there for them.”
“I can already see changes in my mentee as the school year winds down. School provides him a steady routine. Without the school routine, he only has an unstable home life. I think we need to show up for these kids during the summer and show them we are their one constant,” added another volunteer.
Although the number of volunteers in attendance was roughly 10 percent of the entire group, they unanimously agreed to continue their mentoring efforts at various times throughout the summer months. The vested interest in the youth and future of Wyoming is clear.
“Of course you think the mentee is going to experience the greatest impact from this but the mentor changes too. These kids have an impact on their lives just as much as we do on theirs,” says Randy Weener, one of the organizers of the program.
“Back when we first discussed a mentoring program, we narrowed down our focus from six topics to one. Our biggest concern for the future of Wyoming is poverty, ” he explains. “We determined that a lack of employment is due to a lack of education. If we can change the course of history to get kids to feel more affirmed in elementary or middle school, they have a stronger sense and aspiration of who they can become.”
One mentor shared her story of making a Valentine’s Day card for her 8-year old mentee writing in it that she had potential. “It was the first time any one ever told her that or had given her a Valentine’s card, ” she says. It’s that kind of influence the organization hopes makes a life-changing difference in the lives of these children.
What’s also impressive is that One Wyoming 1 on 1 is not modeled after any other program in the state or in the country. Weener says that it’s a collaborative effort of volunteers representing a broad part of the community. “We’re intentionally keeping it grassroots,” he says. “It has more power as a volunteer movement rather than a hierarchical organization.”
Focused, determined and committed, the volunteers openly discuss challenges and triumphs of mentoring. The group is divided up into the four schools they serve to address concerns or offer suggestions for improvement. Once reunited as the whole group, the topics are shared. Input is welcomed and steps toward improving the experience are noted and acted on. Volunteer mentoring is work but not without its rewards. As much time that is spent on discussing obstacles or improvements, equal time is spent sharing touching and heartwarming testimonies of positive results for their efforts.
“They get you don’t they?” Ponstine says to the group after hearing several volunteers share their successes.
“It’s awesome,” answers a mentor.
Ponstine adds, “It’s proof that in some way, shape or form, you are going to have a positive impact on these kids. And keep telling these stories everywhere you go!”
To find out more about becoming a mentor or how to nominate a mentee, visit the website of One Wyoming 1 on 1.