Mentoring program's goal is to add 100 volunteers
Fruits and vegetables? Check.
Original artwork and jewelry? Check.
Chance to help a young person grow into a successful adult? Check – and check it out.
On Saturday morning, the C-U One-to-One mentoring project will staff a booth at the Urbana Market at the Square. Its goal at the farmers' market is twofold: to reward the 300 or so adult volunteers in the program for their service and to recruit at least 100 more volunteers to join the effort.
In prior weeks, staff went around to the market booths asking for raffle donations. What they got was a mini-market in itself, from food to crafts to plants.
"People were just incredibly generous," said Barbara Linder, community connections coordinator for the Urbana school district. "The city of Urbana is actually donating the booth."
Linder said mentors help students in Champaign and Urbana by providing adults who will listen to them, talk with them about their futures, play games and form a relationship that may last years.
"It's a role model who believes in them," Linder said. "It's someone who helps the kids not just get lost in the system."
For the last five years, Carl Ciaccio has mentored Ashanti Balch, an Urbana Middle School student.
"We play foosball, we hang out in the mentoring room, talk about different things he's involved in," Ciaccio said. "We basically just spend an hour a week talking about things that are on his mind."
To be a mentor, adults need to be willing and able to commit an hour a week during the school day for at least a year – preferably more.
"We really look for people who are going to be around for a while," Linder said.
At Ciaccio's business, Hamburg Distributing, the company allows employees to spend time with the students and have that count as work time.
Mentors also go through a screening process to work with the children. Schools do interviews, reference and background checks; and accepted mentors do a brief training session.
Students – who participate voluntarily – are referred by teachers, staff or parents to the program – or they volunteer themselves. "I'll have them practically lined up at my door, 'How can I get a mentor?'" Linder said. "It's very telling."
Linder said the mentoring experience, while not a tutoring program, helps students academically as well.
She found that 72 percent of mentored students performed better in at least one core subject, and teachers noticed positive changes in classroom behavior in 86 percent of students.
"It's just getting kids to see why it matters to stay in school," Linder said. "Our goal is to support school success. We're choosing to come through the back door."
The program provides a postgraduate incentive to achieve as well, Linder said, with a $1,000 scholarship for the first two years any mentored student goes on to higher education.
Funding for the program is in the third year of a three-year federal grant, with staff actively seeking money and community support to continue the program.
"We're all so concerned about test scores," Linder said. "Some of the things that look softer ... (are) a little bit harder sell."
In many of Ciaccio and Balch's talks, finishing high school and going on to college are uppermost.
And Ciaccio plans to be around to help Balch make both happen.
"It's nice to go there once a week and see someone who's happy to see you when you come through the door," he said. "I'm sure he'll be my lifelong friend."
To get involved
The C-U One-to-One mentoring program connects students with an adult in their community for at least an hour a week during the school year. The mentors and students talk, play games and do other activities during that time, which can be flexible with the mentor's schedule.
To become a mentor or learn more about the program, contact Barbara Linder in the Urbana schools at 337-0853 or blinderusd116.org or Brenda Koester in the Champaign schools at 351-3722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.