'Buddy Up': January Is National Mentoring Month
This month is National Mentoring Month, a proclamation originally made by outgoing president George W. Bush, honoring those who serve the youth of the nation.
In Moore County, several organizations provide mentors to children. However, none get as up-close and personal to the youth and their families as Moore Buddies, a state Governor's One-On-One and United Way-funded program that has been around for nearly 14 years.
What makes Moore Buddies unique is the fact it is community-based, rather than site-based, where the mentors take the children out into the community to participate in service projects and other social activities. A typical youth being mentored through the Moore Buddies program receives an average of 10 to 15 hours of one-on-one mentoring each month.
Ron Davis, 80, raised two daughters and thought it might be fun and challenging to mentor a teenage boy. So Davis decided to reach out to Moore Buddies, a community outreach program for youth, similar to Big Brothers and Big Sisters, but when they didn't have a teen-aged match for him based on personality and needs, they matched him with a smart 10-year-old.
"I said 'sounds good,'" Davis says.
Davis said his youth comes from a big family, and in just about six months has gone from struggling academically to a mostly straight-A student.
And that's what Moore Buddies does. The organization matches children aged 6-17 who are facing some sort of life challenge that's put them at risk for not developing to their full potential, like divorce, death, struggles with behavior or academics, etc., with mentors aged in their 20s into their 80s who work one-on-one with their matches to help them reach their full potential.
"I'm pleased with the progress we've made," Davis says.
Together he and his youth have visited the fire department and emergency rescue stations and have gone fishing. Davis has his youth photograph their experiences so he can put together his own scrapbook.
Davis has even had his youth help with some of the other organizations he's involved with, like the Artists League, where he helped do some electrical work in the kitchen.
"He was very helpful, very anxious to learn," Davis says.
Davis adds that part of the mentoring process was getting his youth's teachers to realize he is smart and not a troublemaker.
"Maybe they knew he was smart, but couldn't get it out of him," Davis says. "I have no trouble at all relating to him, and he has no trouble relating to me, we relate to each other very well. He's not a typical 10-year-old; he's so smart, he's just amazed me."
And as with any mentoring match, Davis says the most important thing is dedicating the time to the youth.
"It takes time to establish a relationship, and I don't think our relationship is total yet," Davis says. "I'd like to think we'll become closer."
Every mentor with Moore Buddies commits to one year of mentoring with their match for two hours a week, every week. Davis says as far as he's concerned, he'll be his youth's mentor until he dies.
"I see my job as motivating this boy into being something better than he thinks he can be," he says.
There are many success stories like Davis', but what do the families that utilize Moore Buddies think?
"They are wonderful," says Melissa Fuller, a mother who has two children in the program. "Both children have been with them for about a year. And since Chrisy (Connelly, executive director) took over, I've been so very impressed. They have been wonderful. I can't express enough how much time and patience they've spent with the kids and turned them around. It's been a wonderful experience, I wish they could stay with them forever."
Fuller, a single mom who works fulltime and is going to school to get her nursing degree, said the biggest change in her children has been their behavior. They're less negative, have better communication skills and have brought up their grades significantly, which is pretty indicative of what Moore Buddies does for these youth. Fuller's daughter went from having a 1.9 grade point average to a 3.0 and her son's report card went from having a D, two F's and a C to two A's, a B and a C.
When the two children first entered the mentoring program, their older brother had recently been killed in a car accident.
"They couldn't have entered at a better time," Fuller says. "What (the mentors) did for them ... being there, reaching out, they just let them be heard, they just listened and allowed them to express how they felt. I'm a single mom so most of my time is spent at school and working and it's not been easy. Moore Buddies has been helpful in picking up the slack and helping the kids. I'm so grateful for them."
And Connelly, who's been the executive director for a little more than two years, can't say enough good things about her mentors either.
Connelly says one of the most important things about Moore Buddies is that the mentors get their youth involved in community events and service work, like helping with food drives for the Sandhills Coalition for Human Care.
"We really stress getting the youth involved in service projects because we want them to realize they have something to give to their community and that they can be a part of the solution rather than the problem," Connelly says. "It's a very empowering feeling for them."
Moore Buddies has funding for 17 matches, however with financial support from the community, there are 27 matches currently in place.
"Even though we don't serve the masses, those we do serve, we serve with a very powerful program because our mentors really get involved with the kids," Connelly says. "They're teaching the youth how to improve their situation, not going in and doing it for them.
"I have seen some remarkable changes in the kids we work with. I don't think mentoring is the end-all, be-all, but it's a big part of the puzzle. I believe that it takes a village to raise a child, and Moore Buddies hopes to be a part of the village."
And while the mentors have to spend time with their youth during the week, one-on-one, Moore Buddies provides monthly group activities for every mentor and their youth match, which are created around the youth's goals like academics, social interaction, cultural activities, etc. Some of the activities in the past year have included career night, mock election, the Young Eagles Flying program, kayaking, golf clinics, talent shows and slot-car racing.
"We could not exist without community support," Connelly says.
Aside from often helping out with the group events, businesses in the community often provide buddy passes, which allow the mentors and their matches to go out to eat at a nice restaurant, see a movie, visit a museum, see a play, etc., all at no cost.
Connelly says the best thing about Moore Buddies is that the mentors work with the families, which are, most often, doing everything they can for the kids, but for various reasons need a little extra help, and the mentors allow the kids who have had disappointments to work on their problems with someone who won't walk out on them.
When children age out of the mentor program, they're still invited to the group events and hopefully begin to give back by helping the younger kids coming through the program.
"We want our children to become happy, productive citizens of Moore County," Connelly says. "A commitment to Moore Buddies is an investment in Moore County. These kids are learning to make positive choices, grow up and give back."
In the last few years Connelly said the program has really mushroomed because "a lot of people have been stepping up to the plate to help the community and the youth with the thinking, 'If I can impact this child's life, I can impact the future.'"
Last year, mentors put in 2,470 hours of one-on-one service. The screening process to become a mentor is extensive, but nothing too painful.
"I don't ever want to place a mentor I wouldn't send my child with," Connelly says. "It's not an easy volunteer job, but all a mentor needs to have is love, life experiences, patience and time to give to a child."
If you can't mentor, but want to help, Moore Buddies could always use additional funding, organizational support, and they'd like to start a pool of retired teachers or individuals who would be willing to tutor some of the children already receiving one-on-one mentoring, Connelly says.
For more information on Moore Buddies and how to get involved, visit www.moorebuddies.org.
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