Do you remember who made a difference in your life? Whose influence sculpted and shaped what kind of person you became or what career path you followed? Was it your parents; a teacher; a pastor; a co-worker? For “Mikey,” it was his mentor. Facing incredible challenges and obstacles as a child, it was “Pete” who represented the father-figure in his life by unselfishly offering guidance, consistency, and support. “Pete” was the unchangeable force in “Mikey’s” ever-changing and difficult world. With his mentor’s encouragement, he graduated from high school and moved into the workforce doing a job he loves. He and “Pete” are still close and talk often.
Chautauqua Striders is an organization at the forefront of human service. It has, for the past 35 years, been heavily invested in the children of Chautauqua County. The motto of its ever-growing mentoring program is, “To mentor one child is to change two lives.” Lorraine Walker, Striders Mentor Coordinator and Recruiter, involved in the program herself for the past 13 years, recalled her experience. Clearly remembering overcoming many obstacles with her mentee, (a term used to describe a child or teen in a mentoring match), she reflected that she had been through “a lot” with him. This June, as she watched him graduate from high school, no small accomplishment for this young man, Lorraine said proudly, “I was teary-eyed at his graduation, and I will always be a part of his life.”
There are 17 seniors in this year’s mentoring program at Jamestown High School and all of them are graduating, as well. Dr. Michael McElrath, JHS principal and a mentor himself, continues to keep in touch with his mentee. Although now 22 years old, Michael knows the bond of friendship between them will remain strong. He recognizes first-hand how Striders mentoring is instrumental in helping prepare young people, not only for today, but for the future. Further, Michael understands adults otherwise not connected to the school system find, as mentors, they develop a more in-depth appreciation of today’s youth, their views about the world, and the challenges they face.
Since everyone’s comfort level is different, there are a variety of mentoring programs designed to meet the needs of both the adult and child being paired together. Meetings between the two can happen during school lunch hours, at designated times and places within the community, or in a combination of these two options. Further, a new pilot program called “E-Mentoring” is being developed with Cummins Engine Employees. This past year, they connected with students at Washington Middle School weekly by email and then met personally in group settings on a quarterly basis. Regardless of the option, Austin, a young student who sees his mentor during school hours summed it up best by saying recently, “I only have free time on Fun Day Fridays, but every time my mentor comes during the week, it is even better than Fun Day Friday!”
Mentoring programs are part of the school day in Jamestown Public Schools, Southwestern Central, Randolph Central, Frewsburg Central, Falconer Central, and Dunkirk City schools. Children and youth are often referred by their teachers; parents must give their blessings. Volunteers choosing to mentor are well-screened, trained, and supported by Striders. Much thought goes into establishing the initial matches and they are geared toward success.
Mentors are asked to make at least a one-year pledge to stay with the program – rarely an issue. Recently, a mentee moved with his family to Sheffield, Pennsylvania, taking him out of his school district and mentoring program. So strong was the relationship already formed that his mentor continues to make the 60 mile drive round trip each week for their regular visits!
There is a long waiting list of students looking for a special adult to share his or her time with them . To learn more about making a difference in a child’s life, visit chautauqua-striders.org.