Over the past several school years, many elementary students in Storm Lake have had the opportunity to make new friends with caring adults in the community through the Connections mentoring program. The mentoring program, partnered with the Storm Lake School District, CommUNITY Education and the Prevention Department of Northwest Iowa Alcohol and Drug Treatment Unit, has been very successful infact last year received a Governor's Volunteer Award.
A grant of $135,000 was received from the U.S. Department of Education Safe and Drug Free Schools to carry over the mentoring program into the fourth grade through eighth grade. The program will receive $45,000 each year for three years. The funds will be used for such things as administrative costs, mentoring training and two field trips for the mentors and students to take part in. Angie Woodford has been hired as the middle school mentoring co-ordinator, coming with 11 years of serving as an instructional assistant in the district. "I really believe in the mentoring program. Being an IA gave me that one-on-one with kids. I know what a difference that make in a childs' life. I hope I can make a difference."
The students in the new mentoring program are first all participants in the Tornado Learning Club, the after school program. They are referred to Woodford by teachers, the after school directors and by parents as students that would benefit from extra one-on-one time with adults in the school setting.
Through a very selective process, adult volunteers are partnered up with young students at the Storm Lake schools as part of the Connections mentoring program. The concern and compassion results in a growing friendships. While 15 mentoring partnerships are carried over from last year, there is still a great need for more adult volunteers to be partnered with the new students. Woodford stresses that the program benefits students as well as those who give of their time to serve as the role models.
Through the grant it is a requirement that 45 matches be made the first year, 56 the second year and even more matches the third year. Adults are required to only give one hour a week during the after school program.
Mentors are asked to make a one-year commitment - at least. "After that, it's a bonus," Woodford said, explaining that if the mentor can remain with their student through eighth grade everyone would benefit. It is fun for the mentors to watch the students grow and it is fun for the mentees to have another adult in their lives.
"I want this program to do good things in their lives," Woodford said.
Mentees, like the other after school program participants, are required to do home work for one hour. Mentoring time is set for 4:30-5:30 at which time the pairs can enjoy computer time, reading or games together.
"Kids need a little bit of extra care; someone different from parents or teachers," said Woodford. Oprah Winfrey and Collin Powell have shared their experiences of being mentees when they were young and what a difference it made in their lives.
"Families don't live as close (in proximity) anymore and parents are busy working. Kids can use the extra time," she said, adding that teachers have noticed improvements in mentees grades, as well as those taking part in the after school programs.
Buena Vista students have taken part in mentoring for a number of years; there never seems to be a problem in getting the college-age students to want to come in to the schools to help.
Kelsey Crowder, a junior at BVU, has been involved with BV Buddies for three years and helps in the recruiting of students as well.
"I've had mentors when I was growing up and now I want to give back."
A psychology major, Crowder said she looks forward to coming to the school to see her mentee. "I have siblings this age and I live two hours from Storm Lake.," she said, adding she misses her siblings and seeing the students their age, helps her. "BV Buddy Day is my favorite day of the week!"
BV student Kelsey Petersen said she was a mentor in high school and she is glad to be a mentor again.
"Middle School was the hardest time for me. I always wanted a best friend in middle school. I'm here for Leslie. She's the best buddy I could have."
If you have an hour a week to spare and want to make a difference in the life of a child, contact Woodford at the Storm Lake Middle School, 732-8080. Back ground checks are completed on all mentors and a brief application must be filled out.
"It is hard for people to believe that one hour is enough time," said Woodford. "One hour does make a difference in these kids' lives. This program could grow a lot and has a great potential to grow."