CENTRAL ILLINOIS -- Students in central Illinois are looking for your help.
They want to be mentored, but there aren't enough volunteers.
Right now, there are more than 600 kids in the Champaign- Urbana One to One Mentoring Program.
About 100 more are waiting for a mentor.
In a small and modest mentoring room at Champaign's Centennial High School, a big heart is making a lasting impact.
"We are in our 11th year of mentoring together. When we first started, Na'Taijah was in first grade so she was six," said longtime mentor, Terry Goode.
Now, Na'Taijah Johnson is in her junior year.
"It's hard to trust people, but I can talk to her about things I can't talk to a lot of people about, some things I tell her that I don't even tell my family members. So, it's important for her to be in my life," Na'Taijah says.
That trust didn't just happen, it was earned.
The same month Na'Taijah graduated the 8th grade, her grandmother, the person who take care of her and who Na'Taijah lived with, passed away.
But, it took her months to tell her mentor.
"When she finally told me she said, I can't believe I didn't say that. But she hasn't because she's very private and so when that came out, I realized... that's big," Goode says.
"So for her to be there was very important because there was nobody else there. My mom was there, but she wasn't there all the time, like during school, I would stress about that but she helped me through it," Na'Taijah says.
"It's humbling when somebody says, yeah I'm going to invite you into my life and let you have a place in my heart, and I'm going to trust you and open up to you," says Goode.
This kind of relationship is something people new to the mentoring program are hoping to build.
Last month, there was a training session for new mentors.
"I hope it's an opportunity for whoever I'm working with, for the kid I'm working with to see someone who's wiling to reach back and help the community," said new mentor, Robert King.
"A lot of these kids have been disappointed before, someone who comes every week and says I'm here to listen to you, just to you, makes an incredible difference in their lives," says Lauren Smith, with Champaign's Unit 4 School District.
Teachers say they notice the difference mentors make.
"About 60% to 65% of the teachers will tell you that the kids that have a mentor have better self esteem, come to school more often, do better on test and projects, and probably enjoy school.. have a better attitude towards their school and towards their teachers," Smith says.
Na'Taijah sees the effects of mentoring first-hand. She wants others to have the kind of relationship she has with her mentor.
"I think more kids should have mentors, because it can get them on the right path. I know a lot of people who are in jail, or pregnant, or gang banging or a lot of that stuff, and a mentor can help you through that, it can really lead you to the right path in becoming what you want to become," Na'Taijah says.
"I think this is one of the most meaningful volunteer opportunities that anyone can have, to earn and win and carry the trust of a young person through all of their schooling years," says Goode.
The people with the C-U One to One Mentoring Program stress that signing up to be a mentor is a long term commitment.
They say they insist on a year and ask that people will continue long after that.
Last year 34 students graduated from high school with a mentor, many had been with them for five to ten years.
20 of those students are now continuing their education, that's a higher percentage than ever before.
The C-U One to One Mentoring Program has been around for nearly 20 years.
There are more mentor training sessions coming up.
They're Thursday, January 30th from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Urbana Free Library and on February 5th from 11:30 a.m- 1:30 p.m. at the Mellon building in Champaign.
Mentoring from a parent's perspective:
I asked for a male mentor so Elijah could talk freely about male interests (sports, games, fishing, school, basketball) and to build his confidence so he would be less timid. There are no males in the household. I'm a single parent. He has bonded with the mentor and now talks openly about what interests him. The mentor has helped him to become more sociable with his peers. I also noticed that he does not react first before thinking. I believe the mentor has helped him on this task. He tells me daily that he looks forward to visits with Justin. The mentor program is GREAT!
-Geri and Elijah
"I am a parent of a mentee, and I was also a mentor for one year. There were a number of different factors that went into deciding whether or not to set our son up with a mentor. The Boys and Girls Club had asked us if we wanted to set up a mentor from the U of I and that kind of spurred us in the direction of setting up a mentor from school. I realize that as a child it is a lot easier to talk to someone that you are comfortable with rather than your own parent. My son is not a bad child I know he is more of a child that keeps to himself I figured spending 30 minutes once a week with a mentor would possibly help him to open up by learning from his mentor whether it is time spent talking or just playing games. Having a mentor is like having a friend that knows right from wrong and can help guide my son in the right direction. An effective mentor can have a tremendous effect on a child they have a way of showing a child another point of view on life. I don't ever ask my son what they talk about as a matter of fact we don't talk about mentoring at all. My son will occasionally bring up a game that they might have played and who won. But aside from that I respect that the time spent with his mentor is their time and if he wants to enlighten me on what they did or talked about then that is his decision. I have not seen much of a difference so far since he has only been with his mentor for 1 year but I know during that time a friendship has been formed and will only keep getting stronger."
Mentoring from a teacher’s perspective:
“CU 1-to-1 mentoring program has shown itself as a positive program for young individuals. It provides students support through social interactions and guidance. They receive an extra dose of encouragement within the academic setting that can also be used in their social setting.
The students I recommend throughout the year for a mentor could benefit from developing a trusting relationship with another adult other than their parents or guardians. I have seen students grow in and outside of the classroom. They have another person who believes in their success. The CU 1to1 mentoring program has changed many students I have taught in the past and present.
Mentoring from a mentor coordinator’s perspective:
“There is a misconception in our culture about young people. There is a common belief that pre-teens and teenagers don’t want much to do with adults—that they are all about their peer group and only care what their peers think, say and do. This belief runs so deep that, in spite of spending twenty years at Urbana Middle School matching young people one-on-one with adults for the sake of mentoring or tutoring, I still find myself being a little surprised when I look up from my desk and see a 11 year old standing there. She’s a beautiful, bright girl with a shy smile. She’s come to ask me for the third day in a row if I’ve found a mentor for her yet. Or when a mentor told me today that he’s frequently stopped at UMS when he comes to mentor. Other students want to know if he’ll be their mentor.
When I ask students why they want a mentor they tell me, “I want someone to talk to about what I’m feeling when I’m sad or just need someone to talk to.” Or “Just to have a real best friend for once.” Or “To have a person that is close to me and have fun, make jokes and talk about boy stuff.”
These young people don’t want someone to fix them. They don’t want someone to tell them what to do. They want someone to listen to them, to take them seriously, to keep their secrets, to believe in them. And they’d like it to be an adult. Why do we find this surprising? How can we as adults say no to that simple request?”
To learn more about mentoring and get information about how to become a mentor, visit the Champaign-Urbana One to One Mentoring Program's website.