“One hour a week can make a big impact on the life of a child.” That was the message I heard from Robby Gordon at Bent Tree Bible Fellowship church. I was looking for a way to make a difference in my community and my partner Diane Duncan invited me to hear about opportunities that were close to our office.
Unfortunately, my career in advertising is lacking in opportunities to make the world a better place, and to be honest, I feel more than a little guilty about that. Like most careers, advertising can consume an enormous amount of time, but I knew I could commit one hour during the week if I really believed it would make a difference.
Robby introduced me to Dave Parnell who told me about an effort he was leading to match mentors to kids at McWhorter Elementary School. McWhorter is less than 5 minutes from our office and has almost 700 students K-5th grade. Most of the kids who attend McWhorter are economically disadvantaged and live in apartments near the school.
Dave invited me to an all-day training session on how to be a good mentor. The mentoring program is a partnership between Kids Hope USA and Big Brothers Big Sisters. In the class we learned the importance of a child receiving one-on-one positive attention from a responsible, caring adult. The data on the impact of mentoring is impressive. Just one year of mentoring a student can improve educational success by 65% and improve socio/emotional competency by 79%.
I met my mentoring match in December. Sam is a bright, joyful 8-year-old third grader at McWhorter. He transferred in at the beginning of the school year and was just beginning to make new friends. Sam loves Star Wars, baseball, and soccer, and he thinks he’s pretty good at math. When I told him I had a son named Sam who loved Star Wars we made an immediate connection. Sometimes knowing the difference between a Jawa and a Wookie pays off.
Sam and I met on Wednesdays for an hour every week. Our activities varied but included reading anything Star Wars-related or “Hank the Cow Dog,” playing word games like Mad Libs, building with Legos, and folding hundreds of origami constructions. Reading for Sam is still a bit of a challenge, but we trade a little fun time for a little reading time and it works.
I wasn’t exactly sure how Sam felt about our mentoring relationship and at the end of the school year we met one last time before summer break. I gave Sam a graduation card and asked if he wanted to do this again in the fall. He gave me an enthusiastic “yes!” but asked if we could meet two times a week instead of one. I’ll take that as a good sign.
-David Wilgus, Launch Principal