Mentors forge valuable connections with students

Male mentors especially in need


BY TERRY FLORES
tflores@kenoshanews.com
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PLEASANT PRAIRIE — Amaurion “Mauri” Ray can take apart cellphones, remote controls and just about anything electronic.

At his school, Whittier Elementary, the 11-year-old talks about how he learned to wire a battery to turn on a light bulb in his science class, and his face lights up, too. In fact, his favorite class is science.

"I have a lot of remote control cars, and I take them apart and put them together again,” he said. "Old cellphones, too."

At times, however, he's had to reflect on behaviors not so becoming, like in music class the other day.

"I got a reflection sheet," he said, referring to the mark given to challenge him to improve.

That's where Randy Hutson, a mentor with the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program at Kenosha Area Family and Aging Services comes in.

Time to connect

Twice a week at school since October, Hutson and Mauri have taken time to connect by playing games, reading stories and learning about each other's likes and dislikes.

"Sometimes, we just talk," said Mauri. "I do like it. Last time he was here, he read me an old Christmas story. It was 100 years old."

Hutson, who retired from the American Red Cross in Seattle before moving to Kenosha eight months ago, chimes in jokingly: "Just so you know, I'm not 100 years old."

Mentors are not tutors, according to RSVP director Darleen Colemen. Instead, they are needed to forge connections.

"It's not strictly academic. That can come up, but our mentors don't do tutoring," she said. "They're there to form a friendship with the child and to be a role model.

"They can help out with a school project every once in awhile, but their primary focus is to build that relationship. Really, it's just the undivided attention they need," she said.

Hutson's willingness and commitment to help youth, however, are what brought him to the agency's mentoring program, which is seeking mentors — especially men — in Kenosha Unified's elementary and middle schools.

Male mentors needed

In fact, "Putting Back the ‘Men' in Mentoring" is a campaign the agency has launched, according to Darleen Coleman, RSVP's director.

"In large part, they (boys) need mentors because they don't have any male role models in their lives," she said.

"Our program matches for elementary to middle school from grades K-8. But in middle school, we've found it's very important that we do same-gender matches," Coleman said. "So many boys are lacking those good male role models."

Coleman said there are more boys are on waiting lists for mentors.

A study from Mentoring Partnership Minnesota this year found that 29 percent of boys wait more than year to be paired with a mentor compared with 5 percent of girls.

Of RSVP's 48 mentors, only eight are men, she said. Seven mentors each have two students.

The program has mentors in 16 elementaries and five middle schools in Unified and receives its certification from Mentor Kenosha Racine, at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside's Center for Community Partnerships.

Half hour a week

RSVP mentors are asked to meet with a student at least a half an hour a week for one full school year. Mauri and Hutson usually meet twice a week for 30 minutes each.

"Most enjoy doing it and commit to more than one year. And most of our mentors will go on year after year," Coleman said. "Some of the mentors have been on for nine years now."

Coleman said that at the initial "match meeting" the volunteers are apprised of the challenges and issues the student is facing.

In the 10 sessions that they've met together, Mauri and Hutson have learned about how each would handle simulated "real-life" situations, sometimes playing board games, such as Scruples.

Hutson said one question asked who would be pick for a team if the last person to be picked wasn't necessarily the best player.

"Would you pick them or not? It was a way to talk about the situation," he said. "How would you feel if you were in that person's shoes?"

"It was about empathy," Mauri said, as Hutson elaborated.

Positive influences

Hutson said he's learned about the positive influences in Mauri's life, too, including the boy's grandmother and his family.

Hutson also learned about Mauri's fascination with "drifting," an auto-racing maneuver in which the car slides perpendicular to the driving lanes in a race.

Last month, the two exchanged Christmas presents, and a Mauri gave Hutson a Michigan State pillow. Hutson also gave the youth the game 20 Questions for his birthday on Dec. 3.

"There's a lot of hard ones," Mauri said.

Mauri's mother Tamika Ates said she is pleased with the mentoring.

"I think it's a good opportunity for him. I think it is kind of nice they have the program," she said. "He comes home, and he talks about it and about (Hutson). He tells me, ‘He's pretty cool.’”

Want to help?

Kenosha Area Family and Aging Services’ Retired & Senior Volunteer mentor program needs mentors, especially men. Mentors must be 55 years of age or older.

Mentors will receive orientation and training, monthly support seminars, a starter kit and guidance from experienced mentors through the first year. An end-of-school-year event is also planned.

Mentors must make a commitment to meet with their student once a week for a minimum of 30 minutes during a full school year. For information, contact Darleen Coleman at 262-658-350,8 ext. 115, or rsvp@kafasi.org

Other mentoring opportunities

Other mentorship opportunities are available in Kenosha and are needed at schools and community sites, according to Crista Kruse, manager of Mentor Kenosha & Racine at the University of Wisconsin–Parkside’s Center for Community Partnerships.

Along with RSVP’s program, the center certifies mentors for three major organizations.

School-based mentoring

Like RSVP, Kruse said under this category, the Kenosha Area Business Alliance mentors meet with youth once a week for a half hour to an hour at a local school. Students who are mentored range from first grade to high school, she said.

— Kenosha Area Business Alliance. Contact Brooke Infusino and Terri Muehlbauer at 262-605-1100 or tmuehlbauer@kaba.org

Community-based and school-based mentoring

Mentors also meet with the students in the community, she said.

“They usually pick up the student after school, or from their home, and take them on a outing that may include going to the park, out to lunch, miniature golfing, taking a pottery class,” she said. “Mentors can be very creative with the activities they plan with their youth.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kenosha Inc. fulfills the needs of both community and school-based mentoring.

— Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kenosha Inc. Contact Mandy Johnson at 262-637-7625 or mjohnson@rootcom.net

Site-based mentoring program

Mentors meet with students at the Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha under the supervision of staff.

Kruse said mentors at the club typically meet with three to four youth at a time to work on special projects or programs. Activities can include technology, arts and athletics.

— Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha. Contact Andrian Cunningham at 262-654-6200 or acunningham@bcgkenosha.org

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