M.A.Y. (Mentoring Affects Youth) Mentoring, a community-based mentoring program, is now in its twentieth year in Shenandoah. Students in kindergarten through 12th grade are eligible to be matched with a mentor through the program. Parents and teachers typically refer them.
Kim Leininger, M.A.Y. Mentoring coordinator, said the program is in dire need of mentors. She said mentors provide a positive influence for students and can help them see things from a different perspective.
“I clearly understand that COVID affects everything, and some people are reluctant, and that’s to be understood,” Leininger said. “I wouldn’t want somebody to volunteer that has any significant health issues or high-risk factors.”
Leininger said dealing with all the changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been unsettling for the students.
“I feel like the need for mentors is even greater than normal just because things are changing day by day, and there are less options for personal connection,” said Leininger. “A lot of what we’re doing right now deters from personal connections, which I think are needed for the students.”
Leininger said most of the current mentors in the program are continuing to mentor by finding safer ways to spend time with their mentees. She said some are choosing to meet somewhere instead of the mentor transporting their mentee.
“Obviously, we do want people to be safe,” said Leininger. “They’re trying to wear masks when needed and social distance when needed. I would strongly encourage outdoor things right now.”
Leininger said outdoor activities seem to be a safer option when spending time together. She suggests taking a walk, going to a park, or finding a venue with outdoor seating for a bite to eat or ice cream.
“You could even take a walk downtown and talk about what the businesses do,” said Leininger. “I have found that a large number of our students aren’t familiar with the things we have right here in town.”
Leininger said another option for mentors and mentees to spend time together is to attend school sporting events. She said encouraging students to support our athletic teams is essential. Football games would be a safer option right now being outdoors, but she noted indoor sporting events are socially distanced in the gym.
“That’s another thing I would encourage mentors to do,” said Leininger. “Even if its something they don’t normally do, I think teaching our students to support our athletics and other programs is good.”
Leininger said M.A.Y. Mentoring opens up their group activities for people interested in becoming a mentor. She said attending one of the group activities would provide a chance to see what the program is all about and would be an opportunity to visit with other mentors and students.
The next group event will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. on Oct. 4 at Darwin and Sandy Bugg’s farm located at 3672 260th St. in Farragut. Leininger said activities would include carving and decorating pumpkins, riding four-wheelers, and riding horses. She said activities would be socially distanced, and face coverings would be required.
Leininger said the students in the Shenandoah School District seem to be adapting well to the changes implemented this year due to COVID-19. But she added with all the change also comes a bit of uncertainty for the kids.
“A lot of kids are left to their own devices more than ever, I think right now,” said Leininger. “It’s a little bit of a scary time for them, so I think that reassurance and keeping those personal connections is really important right now.”
Leininger said she wants to put a plea out there for mentors to volunteer because she knows many kids could benefit from the program right now.
“I know there’s a lot that people have on their minds,” said Leininger, “but I don’t want to leave some of these kids behind. Parents have to work, so after school, they’re on their own, and I just think it’s a particular needy time for us to try to fill in that gap for kids.”
Leininger said mentors are asked to commit to a minimum of one full year when signing up. She said mentors are expected to spend a minimum of one hour a week or four hours a month with their students, but the meeting times don’t have to be the same every week.