By Katherine Buzan
Since the revival of the Albion College mentoring program by Candace Cullens, '16, last fall, it has more than doubled in size. The mentoring program at Harrington Elementary was originally a part of Sigma Nu's philanthropy Jessie's Gift. The program was on a break since Harrington shut down and the students were moved. Cullens heard that people wanted to bring it back, so she found a way to make that happen.
Cullens spent her senior year working on everything from creating documents for the program (such as a mission statement) to talking with principals to get everything approved so that it could actually start up. With help from Peg Turner, who began the original mentoring program, and Pam Schuler the assistant director, service and leadership, Cullens managed to get everything going.
"The mentoring program was my top priority during my senior year at Albion," said Cullens in an email. "I answered calls and texts during class, worked on materials for the program before doing homework and spent a crazy amount of time at the Albion Community School."
At the end of last year, Cullens passed control over to Emily Budlong, a Canton, Mich., sophomore, and Jenna Urso, a Brighton, Mich., junior. Budlong and Urso got involved with the program when they saw information Cullens put around campus. Both of them had prior experience with volunteering and with children, so they were excited to be a part of the mentoring program. As soon as Budlong and Urso took over, they began preparing for this year.
"Last year we got the word out that this was going to happen again this year," said Urso. "We wanted to get the most Albion College students that we could to be mentors because the more mentors you have, the more kids you are affecting, the better it's going to be."
When Cullens started the program last fall, it had 31 mentors. Now, there are 78. Budlong and Urso said there was so much interest in the program, that they had to create a waiting list for mentors. Budlong and Urso attribute some of the success of the program this year to the hard work they put into matching college students with elementary or middle school students. Harrington's school counselor, Lisa Bailey, helped Budlong and Urso make the pairings.
"We matched them up according to their personalities, interests and life experiences," said Bailey by email. "It ends up being a full circle benefit for the little kids and the big kids."
Now that the program is running, Budlong and Urso spend most of their time making sure that their mentors are going to the schools, in addition to spending time with their own mentees.
"We love mentoring, and that love didn't change with the newfound responsibilities," said Budlong.
Most of the mentors work with children at Harrington Elementary, but some of them work with students at Marshall Middle School. The mentors spend about an hour a week with their mentees, and they have a specified date and time that they are expected to go. This requirement makes a consistent schedule for the children and their teachers and ensures that there are not too many mentors in the schools at one time.
"The mentoring program is just giving them a positive role model, like a big brother or big sister, that they can be close to and have that good relationship with," said Budlong. "It's not just like a tutoring thing. We do all encompassing activities."
Jack Brownlow, a Grand Rapids senior, has now been a mentor for two years. Brownlow said he got involved with the program because he "wanted to give back to the kids of Albion, and [he] wanted to be a role model for a kid that may not have a role model in their life."
The time mentors spend with their mentees is usually spent doing whatever the mentee wants to do on that particular day.
"Typically I like to first talk to my mentee about their week, about what they did over the weekend, what school has been like, and then we sometimes go play basketball, football or some board game," said Brownlow.
The time the mentors spend with their mentees for a relationship to form that impacts all parties involved.
"It's through having fun that this friendship forms," said Urso. "The more you go, the more they start opening up to you about their life, and you learn more about them as they are learning about you."
As the school counselor Bailey has more contact with the children involved with the mentoring program, she can see the impact it has on them.
"The kids ask me all the time when their mentor will be there next, how cool they are, what they talked about, and they smile ear to ear to be given attention by someone they can aspire to be like or look up to," said Bailey. "They see an older version of themselves, a representation of what they could be."
The program came back because of the hard work Cullens put into reviving it but is continuing through the efforts of Budlong and Urso.
"The program was started with an undeniable passion for helping youth, and fortunately the program has continued with the same passion through the new co-directors of the program, Emily Budlong and Jenna Urso," said Cullens.