BY AMANDA BEAM
FLOYD COUNTY —
Heroes come in many forms. Firefighters. Police officers. Nurses.
But now, through the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp.’s mentoring program, community members of every background have the ability to become a unique type of caped crusader: A friend to a Floyd County student.
Starting with its inception three years ago, the Mentor Mii program matches students from participating NA-FC schools with adult volunteer mentors. Through a mentor agreement, participants commit to the match for one year and agree to spend about one hour a week in contact with their student. All volunteers must undergo a background check and attend a required training session.
WHY THEY VOLUNTEER
Retired teacher Betty Weber signed up to be a mentor from the program’s start. She now also trains others interested in inspiring youth. She mentors two students — a girl from S. Ellen Jones Elementary School and a New Albany High School senior.
Weber said she joined Mentor Mii because she missed working with children and seeing the lights that come on in a student’s eyes from learning new things.
“I think every child has value,” Weber said. “They need to feel important and that they matter to someone.”
Weber knows no strangers. Her cheerfulness and positivity radiate to all that she meets, especially to the younger generation. During mentoring sessions, Weber asks about each child’s day. She may play a game or help them with their studies. Other times, they simply just talk. She sees this individual time with her students as beneficial to not only the mentee, but to society as a whole.
“Our kids need us. They need one-on-one,” Weber said. “I truly believe our nation becomes stronger when our children are cared for.”
HOW IT’S DONE
Theresa Duke agrees. As director of Student Programs and Cultural Responsiveness for NA-FC schools, she oversees the implementation of Mentor Mii. Duke said the program services 46 students, all from various backgrounds and family situations. Some of the mentees come from a two-parent household. Others may have only one parent or another caregiver such as a family friend or grandparent raising them.
“With everyone [in the family] being so busy, that one little person may not receive all the attention that they need,” Duke said. “Mentors are able to assist these students with additional emotional, educational and social support.”
After completing training, the volunteers are matched to their mentee by school personnel, including counselors. With students still needing matches, volunteers are always needed. Meetings may occur any time during the school day. Some choose lunchtime. Others meet after school in vacated libraries and classrooms. Each get-together increases the likelihood of further success in the life of that student.
Six NA-FC schools — S. Ellen Jones, Slate Run, Georgetown, Hazelwood, Scribner and New Albany High School — participate in the program. Duke said she would eventually like to see Mentor Mii in every school.
WHY IT’S DONE
Numerous statistics seem to validate the effectiveness of introducing adult role models into student’s lives. A 2002 Child Trend’s research brief reviewed several different studies and offered their own conclusions based on “experimentally designed evaluations.” Overall, they found that children in a mentoring relationship have higher school attendance rates, better attitudes toward school and were “somewhat more likely to attend college than nonparticipant youth.”
Even more convincing, a Big Brothers Big Sisters’ study revealed that youths mentored during a designated 18-month period were 46 percent less likely than a control group to engage in drug activity and 27 percent less likely to start drinking alcohol.
These benefits have caught the attention of various organizations in the community, as area churches have taken up the cause to recruit new mentors. Georgetown Christian and Northside Christian churches have used the power of the pulpit to promote Mentor Mii in their respective parishes.
As campus minister to Northside’s Downtown Campus, Brian Combs and his wife, Gina, recently attended a Mentor Mii training session. During services, the church presented testimony about the positive effects of mentoring during their sermons. He said that Northside has set a goal of enlisting 100 new volunteers for the program. Civic stewardship is important to the parish.
“Our goal is not to be the best church in the community,” Combs said. “It’s to be the best church for the community.”
For Weber, visits with her two young friends is time well spent. She gains much from the relationship, as do the students who see benefits that could last a lifetime.
“Finding an hour a week [for mentoring] may become your most worthwhile hour of that week,” she said.