Mentoring for smiles

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 20, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
Mentoring is a volunteer gig for Edith Julian, but she said she isn’t doing it for free.
The Salisbury resident says she gets paid every single week when she stops by North Rowan Elementary School to spend time with first-grader Bryanna Moss.
When Julian, 69, walks into the classroom to visit Bryanna each week, she’s greeted with a warm hug and sweet smile.
“That’s my pay for doing this job,” she said. “The smiles.”
Julian, who retired from her role as department secretary with the city of Salisbury’s Public Services Department after 30 years, said she found her calling through mentoring with Communities in Schools of Rowan County.
“Perhaps it’s realizing these children need a friend who provides stability in their lives and who loves them just as they are,” she said. “Maybe it’s seeing the progress one can make each week.”
Julian said she takes her job very seriously and considers it a “privilege rather than a duty.”
“It’s the best way I’ve found to not only pay back but to pay forward,” she said.
Donna Wiseman, Communities in Schools staff member at North Rowan, said Julian never misses a week with Bryanna.
“If she has to miss, she is calling to make it up,” she said.
Before mentoring Bryanna, Julian worked with another student for several years.
She said although the boy faced difficult circumstances at home, he was “polite, compassionate and bright.”
“During fourth grade, I challenged him to a reading project,” she said. “I explained to him that if he accepted the challenge, which I called ‘earn while you learn,’ and completed the assignment, I’d put coins into a bank for him.”
Julian said the boy eagerly accepted the challenge. She picked “The Children’s Book of Virtues,” which contains sections on self discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, work ethic, courage, perseverance, honestly, loyalty and faith, for him to read.
“The deal was that after reading we’d discuss the moral and learn a new word,” she said. “He tirelessly completed the entire book and assignments.”
Julian said her most rewarding moment as a mentor occurred as the final page turned.
“I knew his heart was in the right place when he asked if he could keep the book.”
• • •
Communities in Schools currently has more than 250 volunteers, but volunteer coordinator Doris Yost said the organization “always needs more mentors.”
“I would encourage people to mentor because our society has changed so much and I firmly believe the proverb about it taking a village to raise a child,” she said. “When I was young everyone watched out for all children and held them accountable for their behavior plus parents actually felt responsible for their children … Sadly, that is not always the case now.”
The nonprofit organization provides mentoring services at North Rowan Elementary, Hanford-Dole Elementary, Koontz Elementary, Overton Elementary, Knox Middle, North Rowan Middle and North Rowan High.
“A mentor can help mold character, encourage and support academics and model ways to handle problems,” Yost said.
Wiseman said children look forward to seeing their mentor each week.
“All of them get excited,” she said. “It’s something very special for them to know somebody is coming just to see them.
“It’s just a joy to see the interaction between a mentor and a child.”
Yost said there are no special skills needed to be a mentor, “just a desire to be a friend.”
“I often describe it in training as an adult friend,” she said.
Volunteers must attend one mentor training session that lasts about an hour and a half.
“At the training they fill out an application where they select the school, day and time they are available,” Yost said.
Every mentor must pass the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s criminal background check.
Mentors only have to devote about an hour of their time each week.
“Mentoring is often done during the child’s lunch period so it’s not a big time commitment,” Yost said. “All of the contact between mentors and students happens either during the school day or in an afterschool program.”
Children that are partnered with mentors have been referred by their teachers, principals, guidance counselors and parents.
“Some people have the misconception that these kids are delinquents, vandals or troublemakers,” Julian said.
She said many of the children she has mentored have simply needed extra attention.
Wiseman said mentors meet needs parents and teachers might not have the time or resources to deal with.
“I feel like this is a mission, a wonderful way to help the students,” she said.
During 2009-10, 98.5 percent of students in the Communities in School program stayed in school, with 79 percent having improved attedance rates, 67.5 percent showing improved behavior and 95.5 percent improving academically.
• • •
Vicky Slusser, executive director of Communities in Schools, said anybody in the community can get involved, even if they don’t have time for mentoring.
“Be supportive of education and the school system when talking to children or other adults,” she said.
Communities in Schools is a United Way agency that also receives funding from the Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation, Salisbury Community Foundation, Margaret C. Woodson Foundation, Rowan-Salisbury Schools, Target Foundation, Communities in Schools North Carolina, Communities in Schools National, Speedway Children’s Charities and individuals and businesses throughout Rowan County.
Slusser said budget cuts could mean less money funneling into the nonprofit next year.
“Funding is always helpful to continue the services we are able to provide at the school level to help us keep staff in the schools working directly with the students during the school day,” she said.
• • •
Esther Atkins, executive director of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church’s MAP (Mentoring and Afterschool Program), said she’s looking for mentors to jump start her program.
The program recently received a $159,500 grant from the North Carolina Dropout Prevention and Intervention Committee
“Our philosophy here is ‘map your way to a successful education,’ ” she said. “We feel these kids need a little more than school because we feel school can only take them so far.
“The school system can’t do it all, they need a little help.”
Atkins said she needs people to give students an “extra push.”
“They need someone to help them design a life plan and walk through their education,” she said. “
Patty Petteway, MAP’s mentoring coordinator, said the program is looking for adults with good leadership and coaching skills.
“Right now, we’re gearing toward middle school,” she said. “We’re asking for at least one to four hours of contact per week whether it be by e-mail or in person.”
Petteway said the program will host a mentor recruitment luncheon at the church, 1920 Shirley Avenue, at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Students will read essays about what a mentor would mean to them.
“We’re opening it up to anybody who is interested,” Petteway said. “We just encourage adults to get involved.”
• • •
Gov. Bev. Perdue issued an official proclamation this month marking January as the 10th annual National Mentoring Month in North Carolina.
“Mentoring can truly make a difference in a child’s life, especially for children in need of a positive adult role model,” she said in a press release.
This year’s National Mentoring Month is focusing on raising awareness about how mentoring can enhance students’ prospects for leading a healthy and productive life.
“With our state’s graduation rate barely increasing each year and more than 15 million young people in our country needing a caring adult mentor in their lives it is more important than ever for each of us to help our children,” said Linda Harrill, president and CEO of CISNC and the N.C. Mentoring Partnership.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.