Many children attending Garrett County schools need positive adult role models to help them cope with challenging home situations, provide academic and social skills support and overall encouragement. And simply put, to be a friend.
Addressing this need is Garrett Mentors, a program that offers a unique opportunity for adults with as little as an hour a week to make a real difference in the lives of children. In turn the mentors gain a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
Garrett Mentors connects pre-kindergarten through sixth grade students with caring adult volunteer mentors who typically meet with a child once a week during school lunchtime. Additionally, several fun events for students and mentors are hosted outside of the school throughout the year to help reinforce the special bond between student and mentor, including picnics, bowling, snowtubing, fishing, holiday parties and more.
Children in the program have been reported to have improved classroom behaviors, respect for authority, relationships with adults and peers, confidence and engagement in learning and attendance. Teachers frequently comment that the grades, interest level and attitudes improve dramatically for children working with mentors.
Now in its eleventh year, Garrett Mentors has received local and statewide recognition often emulated by neighboring states and other groups looking to start their own mentoring programs. In 2018, the program was voted the county’s favorite charity in the Deep Creek Times People’s Choice Challenge.
Teachers Applaud the Impact of Mentors
“I love this program so much! I will join your group when I retire. My students look forward to see ‘mentor’ day. They will ask each day if it is the day they will see their ‘lunch buddy’.” (Second grade teacher)
“One of my students really struggled due to issues at home that distracted him from focusing on school work. His mentor has helped him work through a lot of negative behaviors because the student has someone he can count on and who comes to visit with ‘just him.’ The mentor makes him feel special and loved and make school a safer and more positive place.” (Third grade teacher)
“The mentor has helped the student with her spelling each week and her spelling test grades have improved.” (Fourth grade teacher)
“My student loves the time with his mentor. Watching the student grow in his confidence, communication skills and academic areas because of his mentor has been amazing.” (Fourth grade teacher)
“The student’s mentor provided her with a great role model and consistent ‘friend’ that was genuinely interested in her life. This is not something she receives at home and it has been invaluable this school year. She looks forward to seeing her ‘buddy” each week.” (Third grade teacher)
Volunteers Share Their Mentoring Experience
“I’ve been a mentor for more than ten years because I believe our youth are our greatest national treasure and the very lifeblood of this county. Any investment to help a child in need, particularly those who face challenges and need positive guidance is well worth my time. Hearing my mentee say ‘You are the best buddy I’ve ever had and I am so lucky to have you” is the greatest reward.”
“Initially, I was concerned that it would be difficult to adjust to spending time with my student because of the age difference, but that soon became a non-issue. He is a very unique child with a wonderful imagination and great hidden talents. I see when I go to the school, how many children are in need of a mentor. I am approached by other youngsters who ask if I can spend time with them.”
‘It’s easy to say that mentoring is the most positive community service work you could possibly be involved in. The excitement of the child, the ‘ah ha’ moments when they learn, the manners they develop as they mature, and the love and comradery that develops between mentor and child.”
“They say a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes from a kid you care about, I’d say its value is priceless. Recently, a drawing by my lunch buddy captured our relationship. The simple picture showed our initials connected by a heart. A heartfelt connection to a friend, a buddy, a trusted confidante. It’s all about heart—a priceless gift treasured by both of us.”
“I’ve only been a mentor a little over a year and already I’m hearing from my lunch buddy’s teacher that his attitude, behavior, class participation, grades and sense of humor have improved. When a child spends time with someone who demonstrates they care about them and they can count on to be there it really can make a difference.”
“Celebrated my lunch buddy’s birthday with a picnic on a beautiful but breezy spring day. On other days, we’ve worked on crafts and chatted about school work. So look forward to my lunch date – the time we spend together is a favorite part of my week! Garrett Mentors is such a rewarding program for our community’s children — and for the mentors!”
“As an employee of the Garrett County Board of Education, I can see the benefits the students receive from this program. I have watched students smile more and just seem to be doing better in all aspects of school. My student and I have formed a special friendship that continue beyond our time in the mentoring program.”
Adult volunteers of all ages and backgrounds and skills become mentors by applying online and undergo a background check and interview process.
Upon acceptance, mentors are matched with a child who has been referred to the program by school staff or parents or guardians. The mentor meets with the child once a week at the elementary school during lunchtime. Mentors choose the day of the week most convenient for them to meet.
“Mentors provide a listening ear, a consistent positive role in the child’s life and provide support for the child based on the child’s unique personal needs and interest,” said Laura Fike, Program Director. “No mentor/mentee relationship or mentor session is the same. Some might read together or do school work while others may play games or just talk. Others might get together outside of school on occasion. It all depends on the individual child’s needs, the mentor’s time and the relationship that is formed.”
“The bottom line is there are many more children in Garrett County schools who desperately need mentors than the number of adults who volunteer to be mentors,” said Fike. “I hope this article inspires adults to become a mentor and make a real difference in the lives of children in our community.”
For information on the program and to apply to become a mentor, visit www.garrettmentors.org. Follow on facebook.com/garrettmentors.