• Big and little brothers spend time together
  • LEGION members work together on an architecture project (courtesy photo)
  • Boys sure can polish off pizza, no matter how old they are
  • Representing LEGION, from left, sophomore Gabe Schmader, junior Ryan Mohl, graduate Waseem Syed and seventh-grader Kaleb Cooper hold up an Education Excellence Award from the Michigan Association of School Boards
  • College students Waseem Syed, left, and Collin Green, who started LEGION in 2014, return to Kraft Meadows Middle School to meet with current members

Tapping Their Potential

Award-winning Mentor Program Looks to Expand

by Erin Albanese  

Meet the League of Everyday Guys Inspiring Our Neighbors (not to be confused with the comic book-series turned-movie "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen"). Somehow, though, this league – made up of Caledonia High School and middle school students – make "everyday" seem quite extraordinary.

LEGION is a mentorship program in which high school boys pair up with Kraft Meadows and Duncan Lake middle school boys after school twice a month, just to give the younger boys a "big brother" to talk to. They participate in activities and athletics, go on outings and just have fun.

Since its inception in 2014, the program has grown to include 120 members and is now planned for expansion to other districts, with help from the Grand Rapids Griffins hockey team. LEGION recently won an Education Excellence Award from the Michigan Association of School Boards.

Sixth-grader Eric Benjamin caught a hot dog launched at a Grand Rapids Griffins game, which he attended with “big brother” Micah Meindertsma (courtesy photo)'We Could be Role Models'

Caledonia graduate Collin Green, now a junior at the University of Alabama, started the program as a high school junior with help from Duncan Lake Middle School counselor Phyllis Powers-Fata. A mentor program for girls, A More Beautiful You, had been in place for several years, and Green saw a need for a similar program for boys. He knew many had untapped potential.

"It was just that they needed that mentor or role model to help them out," Green said.

Green and his friends fit the bill. "I figured there were so many great students at the high school that could provide that mentorship or role model for them," he said. "Pairing them up was really easy."

Green recruited high schoolers, forming an initial group of just a few boys, including Waseem Syed, now a Michigan State University junior, to mentor Duncan Lake boys.

It's grown from there. LEGION experienced a "massive expansion" led by Green and Syed its second year to include both middle schools, said LEGION adviser Kelly Green, counselor at Kraft Meadows Middle School and Collin Green's mother. It's grown in popularity ever since.

The boys often ask, "Is it LEGION day?" and "Is my big brother coming?" she said.

"These middle school kids think of these guys as rockstars. It's true in every sense of the word."

Talking to Someone Who's Been There

Middle school is a major transition time for young people, Kelly Green said, and their LEGION mentors help them through it. A lot of times, it's just about time spent together, going to a sporting event or auto show.

"The high school boys all just lead by example," she said. "My job is a whole lot easier because I have these guys working with middle schoolers."

Added Syed: "LEGION is great thing because they have someone there that's older than you who you can look up to. We've been through middle school, so we know what it's like."

Kelly Green said she looks for middle school students who could use a little extra guidance. Having a big brother, she said, often motivates them to behave better and improve their grades. "Academics improve because they have somebody they want to impress other than Mom and Dad."

Griffins games have made for fun LEGION outingsExpanding Beyond Caledonia

Under current student leaders sophomore Gabe Schmader and junior Ryan Mohl, LEGION has a new partnership with the Griffins. Not only did the team provide the group with season tickets; a Griffins representative is providing high school students with leadership training. Gabe and Ryan are working to expand LEGION to other school districts, with the Griffins providing a boardroom as a venue before games.

Kelly Green said a number of counselors in other districts have expressed interest in duplicating the program.

For middle schoolers, LEGION is about having fun with a high schooler, and thinking about the years ahead.

Sixth-grader Eric Benjamin said it's time well-spent. "It's always worth the extra hour at school," he said.

Sixth-grader Carlo Aybar said it means a lot to him that high schoolers are willing to be mentors.

"I like how much they care about us," Carlo said. "They take time out of their day and they come to hang out with us. That's really special for all of us involved."

CONNECT

Punt, Pass and Read: Football Players Connect with Younger Peers

LEGION members celebrate a gift from the Caledonia Education Foundation (courtesy photo)

Submitted on: June 13th 2017

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