Opinion

Volunteering to mentor kids means as much to me as it does to them

Keith Boggs, who works in the CEO’s office for Stanislaus County, helps one of his latest mentees with reading. The mentorship program has provided thousands of students across the county with regular, focused help from adult volunteers.
Keith Boggs, who works in the CEO’s office for Stanislaus County, helps one of his latest mentees with reading. The mentorship program has provided thousands of students across the county with regular, focused help from adult volunteers.

We play games, we laugh, we read, we draw, we counsel, we sit in silence, we teach and we learn. We are mentors.

For 20 consecutive school years, we have invested in young lives, poured out our hearts and dedicated countless lunch hours. We offer some time, a sacrifice. But this gift is returned to us in spades. Our mentees are funny and honest and sometimes overwhelmed. We are supportive and kind and consistent.

My most memorable mentee, a little girl I met with spanning her third and fourth grade years, was quiet. My mission was to bring her out of her shell, compelling her to talk about her life. One day I found a large roll of butcher paper in the classroom where we would meet.

I rolled out the paper, covering a table and arranged 6 chairs around it. The little mentee arrived along with several of my colleague mentors and their proteges. I invited everyone to “join me for a dinner party.” We had buckets of crayons and each of us were assigned to imagine what we were having for a special dinner – whatever they could dream up – and to draw their meal right in front of them.

After 10 minutes or so of drawing and just being silly, we went around the table and shared our feastly renderings. When it came to my little protégé, I looked at her artwork quizzically. Was it a plate of noodles? Yes. Just noodles.

When I suggested that I was picking up the tab and that she could have whatever she wanted, she replied, “I eat top ramen every night for dinner. I like ramen.”

Shortly thereafter, she moved far away. I don’t know where she is or what she is doing now, but I hope she is well and living a full life.

So many of our beautiful, talented, young people are faced with challenges that begin before, and continue long after, the school bell rings. There are hundreds of mentors in our community and we could use hundreds more.

We are all busy. We all have lots of other things we could be doing. But I believe that of all we do “for a living,” this is by far has the most impact.

The 20-year sustained commitment by county employees and our community partners including Charter Communication, Stanislaus County Office of Education, city of Hughson, city of Modesto, Wells Fargo, Lions 500, Modesto Rotary Club, City Ministries and Modesto City Schools is strong testimony to the power of this long-standing program. Thousands of mentoring hours have been dedicated to youth in our community through a program that started in 1998.

Beginning in the 2015-16 school year, we began using an aggregated progress survey to track five important “soft skill” areas: listening, focus (avoiding distraction), following directions, working independently, and the ability to work with others. The 2016-17 summary reflects significant improvements across all five areas at all our school locations. We know mentoring works, if we dedicate the time and energy, putting in work of our own.

As time passes, a lot changes in education and in the world. One thing that never changes is the need students have for adults who care to shape them, mold them, listen to them, laugh with them and draw with them.

Keith Boggs is Assistant CEO of Stanislaus County.

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