Building relationships that last

Third grader Carson Myers spends some quality time with mentor Ken Visger

Fifth grader Cameron Horrigan isn’t shy about why he loves the new mentoring program at his school. “Sometimes things upset me, and it helps me feel better when she comes in to help me talk about my feelings,” he said of Chelsea Ring.

Cameron Horrigan thinks hard before he chooses a candy color

Cameron is one of 24 students already benefiting from the Kids Hope USA mentoring program started at Sparta’s Appleview Elementary this school year. Michigan-based Kids Hope — which matches mentors from churches with nearby public schools — has been around since 1995, but this is the first year for Appleview.

“There has been a long-time desire for us to have a mentoring program in place to support kids who need another person in their day for emotional or academic support,” Principal Mike Birely said. “But it takes a lot of coordination to put a program like this together.”

This year, two former teachers took it upon themselves to get it done. Sherry McKellar from Sparta Baptist Church and Sue Blackall from Holy Family Catholic Church coordinated the effort at their churches and helped match volunteer mentors with students. The two local churches also paid for training for organizers and mentors.

Blackall called it “amazing how fast this fell into place, and said there have been “many matches already.” She said the hope is to expand the program to the middle school.

Lasting Friendships

The idea is to provide one more support person for students who may benefit, “to have someone to spend time with them and focus on what they want to talk about, whether that is to build academic support or talk about school or family concerns,” Birely said.

Mentors spend an hour or so a week with mentees — sometimes helping with homework, sometimes reading or just talking or playing board games. The goal is to build a strong relationship so the student has one more caring adult in his or her life.

Often, Kids Hope mentors establish long-term relationships and follow students throughout their growing up years. Cameron is planning on that with mentor Chelsea Ring. “I think I might be able to give you my graduation slip (high school diploma),” he told her.

In order to focus Cameron on his feelings, Ring brings colorful candies, with each color representing a particular feeling. If Cameron chooses an orange one, she explained, he needs to share with her a good choice that he has made that day. A green one means sharing something that made him angry.

Ring says getting to know Cameron has been a blessing and she sees so many benefits to the program already. “They say it takes a village to raise a child,” Ring said. “I have three kids of my own, and I know this is a most important thing.”

Blackall agrees that emotional support is key. “Both Sherry and I are former teachers,” she said. “We know how important this is for some students.”

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and is thrilled to spend some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio or email Janice.

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