By BRENNA GRITEMAN
Thinking back on your adolescence, you might recall the comfort of confiding in an aunt or uncle, or the proud feeling of being recognized by a high-schooler at a football game or community function.
The chance to recreate this feeling for a young person is available through Children’s Mentoring Connection of Hancock County, a nonprofit agency that pairs volunteer mentors with kids ages 6-14.
Matches get together a couple times a month to go for a walk in the park, watch a high school basketball game, take in a movie, bake cupcakes or play board games. Executive director Stacy Shaw says that’s the beauty of the program: it doesn’t matter what the mentor and mentee do, just that they do it together.
“It’s not about big, fun, extravagant things. It’s really the kids just want to spend time with you,” Shaw says.
Most students involved with the agency are being raised by a single parent or grandparents, or may come from a family with another child who demands much of the parents’ time and attention. Parents simply refer themselves to the agency, then meet with a case manager to outline the child’s needs and interests.
While children referred to the program fall within the 6- to 14-year-old age range, Shaw says many matches remain in contact through the student’s high school graduation and even beyond.
Mentor Chelsea Steinman was matched with Cheradin when the child was 10 years old. She admits she was a little nervous at first, because she didn’t know anyone that age and didn’t know what they would talk about.
“Luckily, she always has something fun to say and I really like spending time with her,” Steinman says of Cheradin.
She says they like to go out for ice cream, or walk around Hobby Lobby and decide on a craft to make together. Lately, they’ve been painting things at Painter’s Pottery in downtown Findlay.
“I like being a mentor because I get to be friends (now, basically family) with Cheradin. I would’ve never met her otherwise, and she is someone I’ve grown really close to,” Steinman says.
“I’m incredibly thankful I took the leap of getting involved with CMC. Cheradin has changed my life for the best.”
There are currently 46 community matches in the county, with 17 kids on a waiting list. Shaw says 11 of those kids are boys, as same-gender matches are standard and attracting male volunteers is a persistent challenge.
Kids on the waiting list do, however, get to join in the fun through monthly activities organized by the agency’s PALS program. In this instance, groups from the University of Findlay or Marathon Petroleum Corp., for example, volunteer to lead crafts, game days and other activities.
Mentors must be 18 or older and able to pass a background check. Families or couples are also welcome to mentor a child together.
Each mentor is assigned a case manager to offer support and guidance, and Children’s Mentoring Connection’s standing as a United Way agency means there is no cost to participating families.
Shaw notes that kids matched with mentors have 52 percent better school attendance. Research shows participating children are 42 percent more likely to avoid using illegal drugs, and are 27 percent more likely to avoid alcohol.
And, Shaw says, having the support of a mentor is invaluable to a student who is having a hard time navigating the social structures of middle school, or who is measuring themselves against their peers’ successes. While a pre-teen might feel uncomfortable opening up to a parent, a mentor can act as a big brother or a trusted aunt and can offer a different perspective.
School-based mentoring is in place at seven county schools, including Van Buren and Arlington, which both implemented the program in January.
At these schools, high-schoolers mentor students in grades four and five, either during the lunch hour or during flex hours like a study hall. Shaw says this opportunity teaches the high school mentors skills like flexibility, leadership and confidence, while not cutting into their after-school activities.
“This allows them to give back to their school while they’re in school,” she says of the student mentors. “They really want to be there. They’re really invested in the program.”
Adult mentors lead weekly school-based programs during the lunch hour at Glenwood and Donnell middle schools, with after-school mentoring led by volunteers ranging from high school-age to adults at Jacobs Primary School, Bigelow Hill Intermediate School and Cory-Rawson.
Children’s Mentoring Connection is celebrating 45 years of mentoring, having started off as a part of the national nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters. The group rebranded itself to become a standalone agency in 2004.
Since 1974, there have been over 3,700 matches in Hancock County.
The agency is looking to reconnect with anyone who has been a part of the program over the past 45 years. Past mentors and mentees, along with staff, board members and parents, are invited to stop by the office and sign the alumni wall. They can also check in by emailing Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the agency’s Facebook page.
Bowling for Kids
Children’s Mentoring Connection’s signature fundraising event, Bowling For Kids, will be held March 9 and 10 at AMF Sportsman Lanes.
Teams of five are asked to set a fundraising goal of $250 and can register and choose a time slot at http://www.bowlathon.net/event/cmc-bowling-for-kids-2019 .
In its 36th year, the event includes contests like the Battle of the Banks, which involves a traveling trophy; a Battle of the Badges among local first responders; and new this year, a Battle of the High School Mentors.
Call 419-424-9752 for more information.