Make a difference with MentorWorks
by Ed Okonowicz
Mentoring works: Debbie Carr of the Institute for Public Adiminstration mentors Amanda VanDyke, a second grader at Brookside Elementary School.
Through a volunteer program called MentorWorks, University employees are helping area students improve academically and socially by providing individualized attention and tutoring.
The MentorWorks program, which was started in September 2000 by Dan Rich, now acting provost, and Theresa Clower, director of the Delaware Mentoring Council, is designed to enhance students' academic, social and interpersonal skills while providing UD employees and graduate students with a meaningful opportunity to volunteer their time and skills.
Currently, nearly 30 faculty, staff and graduate studentsup from 18 volunteers last yearfrom the College of Human Services, Education and Public Policy are mentoring students once a week during 30-45 minute sessions at Newark's Brookside Elementary School. There still is a need for volunteers for more than 20 students at the elementary school who have been recommended by teachers to be paired up with a mentor.
According to Tom DeWire, MentorWorks coordinator and a member of Americorps*VISTA, "With National Mentoring Month during January, we hope to recruit at least 20 more mentors to serve the children at Brookside still waiting to be matched."
Ellie Meyer, a graduate student in public administration with a concentration in higher education, said she got involved in the mentoring program after hearing about it through an e-mail distributed by the College of Human Services, Education and Public Policy.
"I'm loving the program," Meyer said. "I wish it was possible to spend longer with my student each week though, because it seems as though oftentimes 30 minutes is not enough. I would recommend the program highly to anyone who is interested in children. It is a truly wonderful experience."
Lisa Moreland, a policy specialist II in the Institute for Public Administration, said she got involved in MentorWorks because she felt lucky to have a network of caring, supportive individuals in her own life.
"MentorWorks gives me an opportunity to return that support and encouragement to a child in the communityto make a positive impact," Moreland said. "This is my second year in the program. Last year my mentee and I had such a great time reading and talking with each other that I asked that I be placed with him again for the following year. I didn't know this at the time, but he had asked for the same thing.
"We've spent this past semester learning about the states. We've been collecting the state quarters, visiting each state's web site to learn about its history and government, locating the states and their capitals on a map, and talking about our travel experiences and the places we hope to visit. The project has prompted some great conversations," she said.
According to DeWire, a study commissioned by Big Brothers/Big Sisters has shown that children with consistent contact with a caring adult mentor are 46 percent less likely to start using drugs, 52 percent less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and 37 percent less likely to skip a class.
"The partnership between UD's College of Human Services, Education and Public Policy and Brookside Elementary School provides a wonderful opportunity for the University of Delaware community to make a difference in the future of this great nation," Dewire said.
"I have been overwhelmed by the devotion of the MentorWorks volunteers to their mentees at Brookside, and I am excited to forge mentoring relationships for the remaining 20 students at Brookside who are hoping to be matched with a mentor," he added.
Volunteers sometimes are concerned about their qualifications to serve as a mentor," he said, explaining, "You don't have to be perfect to be a mentor. You just have to be yourself. By simply showing an interest in a child and becoming a consistent source of encouragement and support, you can be the difference between success and failure for the child."
Photo by Eric Crossan
MORE VOLUNTEERS NEEDED
Anyone interested in finding out about the mentoring program or becoming a mentor at Brookside Elementary School should contact DeWire at 831-8127 or via e-mail at [thdewire@ udel.edu].