On the morning of Nov. 30th a group of community leaders took time out of their schedules to meet in the library of East Pointe Elementary School. Among the volunteers was a bank executive, a dentist, a fire chief, a coach, a police officer and many others. They came to give their time and a little of themselves to third and fourth graders that are in need of a positive influence and some encouragement.
Some mentors could be seen joking, laughing and getting to know their mentee while others sat at tables carrying on serious conversations.
Josh Ray, new principal of East Pointe, and creator of the program was visibly moved as he spoke to the adults and the students in attendance.
“I saw some these kids smile more in the few minutes with their mentors here today than in the four months that I have known them,” said Ray. “I am sorry for getting emotional but this why we do what we do.”
The meeting last week was just the starting point for the mentoring program. Starting in January the kids and their mentor will meet once a month to eat, talk and play games. Mentors are also encouraged to come to the school between their meeting times to eat lunch and spend time together.
Currently the program is limited to third and fourth grades, but may be expanded to second grade as it grows. The students in the program were selected through teacher and counselor referrals. “We were looking for students that could benefit from a good strong friendship,” said Ray.
The program is providing 20 mentors for East Pointe students. Ray stated that he could have had many more mentors but decided to limit the numbers for the time being.
Josh stated that the mentors were chosen by a group to find the best fit for the students in need of guidance.
“Some kids have a need for a male role model but we were also sought out women. For some kids teachers might be their only female influence they have,” said Ray. “We also took into consideration personalities. That was a big deal; as was dependability because we need to know that they are going to be there because these are the kids that people have made promises to their whole lives and don’t follow through.”
All of the mentors are put through a training organized through the school and background checked with the state and federal government for the safety of the students.
48 percent of the students at East Pointe are on the free and reduced lunch program. East Pointe also has the highest poverty rate in the school district.
Ray knows from personal experience how big of an impact that a mentor can have on a young person’s life. “I had a wonderful family and unbelievable parents,” said Ray. “But football coaches, band directors and youth pastors help make me who I am. And just to think what an impact meeting once a month with Coach Rick Jones is like for a third grade kid! We are excited about the possibilities and I think the adults will get as much out of the program as the adults.”
The FOCUS on Greenwood organization raised money for the mentoring program through fundraisers such as the city wide yard sale to help pay for catered lunches for the mentors and their kids.