Chautauqua Striders Mentoring Benefits JPS Students
“Mentor one child, save two lives is an understatement to say the least,” said 2011 Jamestown High School graduate Joe Bergman. “Without the Chautauqua Striders mentoring program I would not be here today or anywhere near close to being the man I am today. I was on the wrong path and doing the wrong things. In 7th grade, I joined the program. Kim Ecklund was my mentor. Kim and her husband, Keith, made me understand the weight of what I was doing, pointed me in the right direction and they stood by me. After graduation, I went into the Army, met my wife, had two children and then went to JCC. Without this program, I would not have focus and direction. Without this program, I would not have made good decisions or be where I am now. This program gave me the tools to keep myself together and keep going. Chautauqua Striders has played a huge part in my life. There are not enough words to say how much this mentoring program has meant to me.”
Mr. Bergman spoke at the Chautauqua Striders Mentoring Dinner about his experience in the Chautauqua Striders Mentoring Program. The dinner at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and through the generosity of the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, was held to honor mentors and their mentees as part of January’s National Mentoring Month. Many mentees and their mentors talked about the amazing, positive experiences they have experienced by being a part of the Striders mentoring program.
“I started in ninth grade and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be in Striders but I have a good friend who introduced it to me,” said mentee, Dana, who is paired with Sherry Nowell. “I really don’t think I would be going in the right direction if it weren’t for mentoring. I skipped school in ninth grade and I really regret that. I started to realize I had to get myself together and mentoring has made such a big difference in my life.”
For over 35 years, Chautauqua Striders has been dedicated to the mentoring and guidance of youth through education, advocacy and athletics. Many hundreds of Jamestown School students have benefited from this wonderful mentoring program, which is in every school in the district. This year there are two new programs. The first is St. Luke’s Church parishioners, through the guidance of their pastor Luke Fodor, who will be mentoring students at Love Elementary School. Pastor Luke is a strong advocate for project-based mentoring. He understands the power and impact of mentoring and continually promotes that message within our community. The second new program is with the Jamestown Jackals, a professional basketball team. Members of the team will be mentoring seventh and eighth grade boys at Washington Middle School thanks to Kayla Crosby, Jackals General Manager and President of the Jackals non-profit organization #IntegrityFirst and Aryol Prater, Director of Strategic Partnerships.
“It is so easy to be a mentor to a child. You don’t have to have special skills; you just need to be willing to spend time with a young person. I always tell people that there are three things you need to do – listen, encourage and support,” said Jennifer Flanders, Chautauqua Strider Director of Mentoring and Advocacy. “It takes as little as 30 minutes a week to make a difference and there are so many benefits of being a mentor.”
There are three ways to be a mentor to a child through Chautauqua Striders:
1. School-based Mentoring
Mentors meet with their mentee once a week for lunch at their school for 30 minutes. These meetings are child-led and the pairs talk and do fun activities around common interests.
This type of mentoring requires a bit more time commitment. Mentors meet with their mentee out in the community for four hours per month. The pairs often meet to have a meal, see a movie, or go to a local attraction like the Audubon Nature Center, which is possible through the community’s generosity of providing free passes, to bond and foster a relationship.
3. School-based + Mentoring
This mentoring is both at lunch for 30 minutes and the pairs receive special permission to go out in the community too.
Mentors, who are trained volunteers, listen and offer support, help build confidence and character, expand their mentee’s universe and help them navigate through everyday life situations. Parents and families also understand the importance of their child having a mentor.
“William was going through a traumatic time and Ernie, his mentor, came into his life,” said William’s mom. Ernie Howard has mentored her son, who is a fifth grader at Jefferson Middle School, for two years. “They are so well-suited for each other and I’ve heard nothing but good things about Ernie. He’s someone William can talk to if he can’t talk to me. And, I’ve seen William just blossom. He feels like he has a male role model that he can then look up to and someone else he can confide in other than me.”
The goal of the mentor/mentee relationship is for the pair to stay together through high school graduation. Many of the Chautauqua Striders mentors and mentees have been together for years and keep in touch after graduation. Striders average match length is 39 months, four times the national average.
“Our relationship grows because neither of us wants to end it,” said former Chautauqua Striders mentee, Jackie, who graduated JHS and is now a student at SUNY Fredonia. Jackie and her mentor, Leann Love, have been paired for seven years. “It’s become more of an adult relationship and I know if I need her I can rely on her to answer questions for me. She’s awesome.”
If you are interested in becoming a Chautauqua Striders mentor, you will need to complete an application, which can be found on their website, www.chautauqua-striders.org, participate in training with mentoring staff and complete a background check. The Chautauqua Striders Mentoring Program would not be possible without the help of local organizations including: the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County, Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation, Lenna Foundation, the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, First Niagara Foundation and the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.