By David Liebler.
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
In Stanislaus, members of the county family are following this motto through volunteer work at local elementary schools.
It’s called the Employee Mentor Program and it’s made a difference for the past 16 years. Once a week for the entire school year, volunteers meet with the same student during the lunch hour. They serve as role models, advisers, teachers and even friends to inspire the identified at-risk students.
The Stanislaus County volunteers run the gamut, from administrative assistants to county supervisors. They work in teams of three, not only to ensure that at least one mentor meets with their selected student each week, but also to break down barriers within the county structure.
The enthusiasm for the program is abundant among everyone involved. Mentors such as assistant Sheryl Schwartz and Supervisor Terry Withrow talk with pride when discussing their work with the children. For Elementary School Principal Kim West, the program is a great asset in helping children with “soft skills” at a critical time in their development.
I had the privilege of recently watching the volunteer mentors work with students. Their bond was evident. Whether it was reading a book, drawing, playing a game or just talking, there was a strong connection and, I think it’s safe to say, friendships were being made.
The smiles among the students who participate are abundant. They have adults coming to school to spend time with them … to talk, listen and laugh. People they don’t even know willing to reach out and make them feel like somebody. That’s pretty powerful.
The program has grown over the years and now includes local residents beyond the county family. Supervisor Withrow talks about how this program is a critical investment in the community; how it can change lives and ultimately save the county money.
County Assistant Executive Officer Keith Boggs, who designed the program 16 years ago and has overseen its expansion ever since, is excited about the program’s growth and the impact it is having on a targeted group of elementary school students. He cites lower truancy rates as one example of the program’s success.
“Being part of a young person’s life — maybe a young person who doesn’t have someone in an adult capacity who pays that attention – coming to school on a regular basis and the rewards that come with that, it’s turning the tide on that attendance issue,” Boggs explains.
Yes, it takes a village – and a group of people passionate about make a difference.