Believing makes all the difference

BELIEVE... Mentors Becky LePorte and Jeff Baker with their mentees at a STEM building group activity this past winter. January is National Mentoring Month.

Photo provided

Believe that mentoring can make a difference!

“We need to believe in kids,” said Kim Leininger, M.A.Y. Mentoring Coordinator. “Believe in their potential. We need to believe that helping them can make a difference.”

The community-based M.A.Y. Mentoring program was founded in 2000 with seed money from Ed May Jr. in honor of his parents. An advisory board consisting of 16 members and Leininger guides the program that provides positive influence for students in the community.

Students in grades Kindergarten through 12th grade are eligible to be matched with a mentor. Students are typically referred by parents and teachers and spend a minimum of one hour a week or four hours a month with their mentor.

Leininger said there are many reasons for mentoring.

“It isn’t just for kids with dysfunctional homes or challenging situations,” said Leininger. “Sometimes mentoring is about enhancing a particular skill or gift that a student has. It’s for any student who needs a little bit of a gap filled in.”

Leininger said, for example, they matched a student who has an artistic talent and wanted to be an artist with an artist that could help and enhance her skills. She said the student had a wonderful, loving home, but art was not a strength of her parents and needed some guidance from someone with artistic skills.

“Sometimes it’s families that have a large number of kids, and it’s difficult for parents to give each child individual attention,” said Leininger.

The program can help families and their children from different cultures that maybe don’t speak English very well become more comfortable and integrated in the community.

“So it’s really across the board as far as students that we work with,” said Leininger. “It isn’t at all just students that have challenges.”

Leininger said some of the students in the program do face challenges, and she hopes this is something they can help them with.

“We have a lot of students that really need someone if nothing else just to listen to them,” said Leininger. “Sometimes, as parents, even wonderful parents, you are busy enough that you don’t always just sit down and listen.”

Leininger said sometimes you could tell a child something 20 times, “But it takes someone else telling them before they will hear it, and it will sink in.” She said kids tend to tune out their parents a little bit where they will hear it differently, or from a different perspective, from somebody else.

“Most of my referrals now come from parents,” said Leininger. “They are asking for help, which is a good thing. They see it as we are not judging them or saying you’re not good parents. They just know that they are not able to do everything with their kids that they might like to do, and if we can offer some help, they would really appreciate it.”

Leininger said they want people to see being involved in the mentoring program as a positive.

Becky LaPorte signed up to be a mentor for Jackson Linfor three years ago. Linfor is 10 and in the fifth grade. Linfor has a younger sister, Dakota, who is also in the M.A.Y. Mentoring Program.

LaPorte and Linfor knew each other from attending church at Cornerstone Fellowship.

“I had a trial going on in my life,” said LaPorte. “So, I thought I would reach out to the mentoring program and go that route to help out. I met with Kim Leininger, and she actually asked me if there was anybody I had in mind. Jackson and I go to church together so that is how we got paired up.”

LaPorte and Linfor usually meet once a week to spend time together playing games, cooking and eat dinner together. They talk about what Linfor wants to do when he grows up, which is to become a comedian.

“We baked Jackson’s mom a cake for her birthday,” said LaPorte.

LaPorte and her husband Ryan have taken Linfor boating and camping with them, which are activities he had never done before. Linfor also likes spending time with LaPorte’s four dogs which go to the beach with them.

“I just enjoy spending time with Jackson and teaching him things that maybe he hasn’t been taught or seen how to do,” said LaPorte.

Linfor said he likes to spend time with other people and try new things. He said, trying a chocolate smoothie for the first time was fun, and it was good.

LaPorte and Linfor attend the M.A.Y. Mentoring group activities they hold once a month. Linfor enjoyed going to Sportsplex and doing crafts at Christmas.

LaPorte and her husband both work full time.

“It’s a very flexible program that brings people together,” said LaPorte. “Whether you meet for half an hour or two hours, there are no rules. Any amount of time you spend with these kids means a lot to them.”

LaPorte intends to continue as Linfor’s mentor until he graduates high school, and they hope to stay in contact beyond that.

“It’s opened my eyes up a lot,” said LaPorte. “To be more aware of what other people are going through or how other people live their lives and to not be so judgmental and to have an open mind.”

LaPorte said it is a good way to get involved in the community, and the only cost is really your time.

Leininger said most mentoring programs struggle with finding enough volunteers to meet the needs of the students.

“I think a lot of people think they don’t have the time for one more thing, and I respect that,” said Leininger. “People are very busy, and it’s hard, but I don’t think mentoring is as overwhelming as people think.”

Leininger said mentoring is really about including a student for an hour or so a week in whatever you might be doing anyway. It is about showing them a different environment then they are accustom to and giving them one on one attention, support and guidance. It is about letting them know you care about the choices they make.

“It’s about us helping them know that they have choices and processing how to make good choices so they can be successful,” said Leininger.

Leininger said families face a lot of different stresses. She said even homes with hard-working, loving, attentive parents face challenges.

“There are a lot of negative influences for kids,” said Leininger. “We try to be one more positive influence to counteract some of those negative ones.”

M.A.Y. Mentoring has group activities to give the kids in the program the opportunity to get to know their mentors better. The group activities also help kids build relationships by interacting with other kids at different grade levels that are in the program, along with their mentors.

Leininger said they had expanded their programs beyond the one on one mentoring that is offered. The additional programs available to students in the Shenandoah Community School District are directed towards high school students.

“All of our programs have a lot to do with relationships, but they’re in a little different form,” said Leininger.

Links to LNX E-Mentoring is a program that began as an Area Education Agency county-wide program that dissolved. In 2010 Leininger incorporated the E-Mentoring program into the curriculum for all ninth grade Language Arts students in Shenandoah. Students in this program are matched with an E-Mentor from the community and communicate weekly by e-mail

. This program intends to teach them writing skills and for the E-Mentors to encourage students to make the most of their high school career. They encourage the students to be involved in high school and expand their interests. They guide and help them start planning for post-secondary opportunities. If a student has an inclination of what they might what to pursue as a career, they will try and match them with a community member in that profession so they can learn more about that profession and what it takes to reach that goal. E-Mentors are encouraged to share their own experiences with students. Small groups from this program have the opportunity to visit local businesses at different times throughout the year.

MC2 Club is a voluntary mentoring club for sophomores, juniors, and seniors in Shenandoah. MC2 stands for mentoring club with expediential opportunities. This group has the same purpose as Links to LNX E-Mentoring but goes more in-depth. The students in this group meet with adults in the community that can help guide them with career choices. Students have the opportunity to tour businesses both in and outside the community to explore different careers. This club can also help students with job shadows and internships.

“Mike Baur helps me a lot with this program,” said Leininger. “He is one of our advisory committee members, and he has been instrumental in helping me make connections to a lot of the business people in and out of Shenandoah.”

Leininger said in MC2 Club, they can target individually what kids might want to explore for career opportunities.

“We also do group activities like we do with M.A.Y. Mentoring, but instead of one to one, the MC2 Club has a group of high school kids that interact with a group of community members,” said Leininger.

Leininger said they would choose an activity that all ages will enjoy, such as bowling. The students can interact with the members of the community and ask questions. She said the MC2 group also invites speakers to the school during lunch or breakfast. The Speakers talk about their profession, but more importantly, they talk about how they got there and who helped them along the way.

“We really want to emphasize not only in our M.A.Y. Mentoring program but to the high school kids that saying “It’s not what you know but who you know” has a lot more validity than you might think,” said Leininger.

Leininger said making connections and networking are important.

“I’m not sure that kids in high school really understand the value of that, so that is a really strong emphasis,” said Leininger. “Relationships and connections are going to help you get places. You may be a great student, and your resume may look great, but there is a lot of competition out there in the world. So, if you know somebody that personally knows that you’re a person of good character and reliable, it is going to go a long way for you.”

Mustang Mentors are juniors and seniors who receive an elective class credit for mentoring and tutoring younger students at the elementary or middle school level in Shenandoah. The goals of the course are to gain skills that will assist younger students in improving grades and learning attitudes, demonstrating responsibility, develop self-esteem, striving to do their best, and preparing for the next grade level. Mustang Mentors are required to spend each day in an assigned elementary or middle school classroom working with individuals or small groups. Students keep a daily journal of their experiences and are required to write a final semester paper. This program focuses on establishing comfortable relationships that enhance learning.

Leininger said the Mustang Mentor program could help students pursuing a career as a teacher or school counselor. She said it is a good experience for them to be in the classroom setting and can help confirm their career path or be an eye-opener for them.

Leininger said with each of the programs offered, they are helping students transition from elementary to middle school and then into high school. From there, the programs will help them transition into college or the workforce.

“Our programs are about helping kids, but it goes beyond that into wanting to help our community,” said Leininger.

Leininger said they are interested in knowing what students will look for or want in a community.

“We want our community to grow, and rural America struggles right now,” said Leininger. “We want to know what would bring people into the community or return to the community after college.”

Leininger said the speakers that visit the MC2 Club talk about why they chose Shenandoah to build a life. She said it is not only a learning experience for the students but the adults involved in the M.A.Y. programs.

“It really just all fits together,” said Leininger. “Its about life in general. The quality of life, values, and what is important to you. We want to know how we can help provide that here.”

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