Mahomet-Seymour Mentor Program seeks additional volunteers

Deb Kauffman, and her family, were new to Mahomet eight years ago.

Seven years ago, thanks to the efforts of Jill Kyle — whom she had gotten to know at church — Kauffman became a volunteer in the Mahomet-Seymour Mentoring program.

Now, she could serve as a spokesperson on reasons why others should
consider it.

“I’d never mentored and wasn’t sure what to expect,” Kauffman said.

“Once I started, it was natural.”

“I’d do it again. It’s awesome.”

Kauffman first befriended a fourth-grader, Kaitie Black. That was in the fall of 2011.

Black is starting her sophomore year in high school today. Kauffman is still her mentor.

“She gives me a hug any time we meet,” Kauffman said. “I feel she is part of our family.”

Kauffman’s own children are older, ages 20, 19 and soon-to-be 18.

Through mentoring, she finds the rewards go both ways.

“More kids should have an opportunity to have a role model in their life and someone they feel comfortable talking to,” Kauffman said.

“I can be her friend and be non-judgemental, and guide her as a parent.”

Volunteer mentors meet weekly — during the school year — with the student they are mentoring. Usually, the commitment is for about a half-hour.

It’s up to the students what they share about their life. Mentors are originally provided their name and year in school.

It didn’t take long for Black and Kauffman to form a bond.

“I wasn’t told anything about her background, but I don’t feel we had a problem getting to know each other,” Kauffman said.

“We met, played games and she started opening up to me.”

As the years progressed, Kauffman looks forward to the visits as much as the teen-ager.

“Kaitie is a wonderful, sweet, artistic young woman,” Kauffman said.

“We have drawn so many pictures together at mentoring. We like to color, play board games and I taught Kaitie how to crochet.

We’ve made earrings.”

That’s not all.

“We have had lots of great talks and have shared many lunches together at Lincoln Trail and the junior high. I brought breakfast for us during the second half of her freshman year,” Kauffman said.

“Kaitie and her family are like a part of my family. I’ve gotten to see
her grow up and become more confident.”

Stories such as Kauffman’s are what Kyle hopes will appeal to other
community members.

A new school year signals more than the beginning of time spent in the classroom.

It’s also the start of the Mahomet-Seymour Mentoring Program, which can be traced back almost two decades in the district.

About three dozen volunteers are returning — or starting — as mentors, but there is a need for more.

“Typically, we always have students on a wait list,” said Kyle, one of five social workers in the M-S district. “We’re always looking for more

Although the school year started today, it’s not too late for mentors to

“We’d love to have another 15 to 20,” Kyle said.

The commitment, she said, is “usually about 30 minutes, once a week, doing any kind of activity from playing games, to crafts, to helping with homework, to talking.”

The time of day varies, depending on a student’s schedule. For those in junior high or high school, visits are often coordinated to coincide with a student’s study hall or P.E. class.

Those in charge of the program attempt to keep a particular student’s mentoring session at the same time each week.

“As far as structure for the student, it is helpful to know,” Kyle said.

“They look forward to that.”

Students as young as first grade are part of the mentoring program.

“We encourage mentors to continue as many years as possible,” Kyle said.

“Some have done it (with their student) from first grade through graduation.”

The role of the mentors is to provide encouragement, guidance and support.

Most mentors only work with one student, but occasionally — due to demand of students or shortages of mentors — they are assigned to multiple students.

As for who makes a good mentor, Kyle said the most important trait is
available time.

“We’ve had all kinds of people from college students to Senior Citizens,” she said. “It works at any age. Kids are looking for that positive person in their life to connect with.”

As a rule, male mentors are placed with male students and female mentors are placed with female students.

Those guidelines are subject to availability, however.

“It’s harder to find male mentors,” Kyle said.

The mentoring sessions take place at school during the school day.

Mentors have a say “with the age group,” they work with, Kyle said.

The program has thrived, she believes, because it’s a positive for both sides.

“It’s mutually beneficial,” she said. “We’ve gotten positive feedback from the students and mentors.

“The students love having that person who takes an interest in them and sees them as a friend or a big-sister type of relationship.”

“Most mentors say it’s something they get a lot out of as well.”

Those interested in volunteering as mentors can contact a social worker at any of the M-S school buildings, or Christine Northrup, director of special education, at the administrative office (217-586-2161).

The process starts with a background check and fingerprinting (at the
district’s expense) followed by a one-on-one meeting with someone from the M-S staff.

“We talk to them about what is involved and what mentoring is,” Kyle said.

When it’s time to make assignments, Kyle said, “we try to connect mentors with students we feel would be a good rapport.”

In years past, the greatest need for mentors is with students at Lincoln
Trail Elementary School (third through fifth grade) and in the junior high school (sixth through eighth grade).

Mentoring sessions for the 2017-18 school year will start after Labor Day.

Kauffman is a former Girl Scout leader who has an idea what she’ll do when her mentee graduates in 2020.

She’ll volunteer to continue on as a mentor.

“I love the mentoring program,” she said. “I really like kids.”

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