Adams County youngsters were paired with mentors — some, for the first time, others, for a second go-around — at the MentoringWorks Match Night event Sunday at Hastings Senior High School.
Formerly a Big Brothers, Big Sisters affiliate, the program became MentoringWorks two years ago to enable more specific local control and funding for program activities.
During the annual match event, students in grades K-5 are paired with mentors ages 16-22 for one year to spend quality time together both at school and monthly match events that may include other family members. In all, 35 matches were made during the event.
Mentors meet with students once a week through the school connect program for 30-40 minutes to extend a hand of friendship and a listening ear and share fun activities together. These may include tutoring, games, or simply conversations offering encouragement and affirmation.
For returning matches, the event affords them a chance to enjoy some fun activities with their mentees while re-affirming their commitment to another year of service as peer role models.
For new mentors, it represents the start of what they hope will be a rewarding and eye-opening experience for both themselves and their mentees.
Participants arrived early Sunday to play games, enjoy snacks, and create artwork before their matches were revealed to them. Some mentees dressed in Halloween costumes for the occasion. When the time came for their match to be revealed, students were lined up and asked to close their eyes while their mentors lined up behind them to surprise them, with a countdown marking the final seconds before introductions.
There are 146 matches currently working together in MentoringWorks from area schools in Adams, Clay and Webster counties, including Hastings Public Schools, St. Cecilia, Adams Central, Harvard and Blue Hill.
Cara Kimball, board president for MentoringWorks, said the reveal is a big moment for mentees as they get to see their mentors for the first time in the flesh.
“It’s really exciting,” Kimball said. “You get to see lots of surprise and excitement. They’re thrilled. It’s a fun, new beginning for creating those relationships.
“Our goal is always to have a positive impact and create those relationships with kids so that they have a better chance of success later in life too.”
Victoria Korth, program manager at MentoringWorks, said students typically are paired with mentors between the ages of 16-22 so that they can relate to their matches as peers rather than authority figures.
“They’re more seen as peers, and research supports that it’s easier to talk to somebody who is a peer,” Korth said. “When they’re within that 10-year age gap they’re not quite looked at as a teacher or somebody who could potentially get them in trouble if they were to come to them with something serious in their home life or school as well.”
Rileigh Borrell, 16, is a junior at Hastings Senior High and a first-year mentor. She said she decided to get involved with the program after hearing good things about it from her cousin, Dylan Lemke, a former mentor.
“I just want to help kids and make them feel comfortable,” she said. “I just hope to leave a good impact on them and make their day better and have them become better people by having someone to look up to.”
A basketball player on campus, Borrell’s experience working with youngsters includes work in the YMCA’s after-school program and a coaching position with a YMCA volleyball team for first- and second-graders.
“Watching them grow and learn from things is a good thing to watch,” she said. “Knowing you are a part of that makes you feel better as a person.”
Junior Landon Eckhardt, 16, is a first-year mentor who runs track and cross country at HHS. He said he was drawn to the program after learning some of his friends also would be serving as mentors. Having known friends who benefitted from having mentors in grade school was another motivating factor in his decision to become involved in the program.
An only child himself, he said he was looking forward to meeting his mentee, Brint, whom he knows little about at this point.
“I think it’s a cool system and a cool organization,” he said of MentoringWorks. “I hope to improve my social skills while talking to others and I hope he gains the same thing, knowing more people.
“I hope him and I have fun when we see each other during the week. I hope we both learn things about each other and life.”
Wyatt Tharp, 9, is a third-grader who was awaiting his match Sunday afternoon. The youngest of four children, three of them girls, he said he was looking forward to having an older male peer to toss a football with and assist him in the subjects of math and writing.
He said he hoped his match is someone who “is very helpful and friendly friend.”
Elisha Schreiner, 7, was dressed as Mughead, a game character, as she played board games with family members while waiting to be re-matched with her mentor. She said she has enjoyed playing games and getting a helping hand from her mentor with assignments during her time in the program.
In addition to its work with matching elementary students with high school and college mentors, MentoringWorks also offers CareerWorks, a program connecting high school age students with employers in a career they may be interested in, providing them guidance and insight into that career choice.