Back in the (pre-pandemic) day, 26 mentors met weekly with Westport public school student mentees. They shared lunch, played games, developed friendships, and impacted each other’s lives.
But 2 years in which schools were closed to visitors diminished the ranks. Today, there are just 5 mentor/mentee pairs.
Annette D’Augelli wants to raise those numbers.
As mentor program coordinator for Westport’s Department of Human Services, she’s seen the power of mentorship.
Since its start more than a dozen years ago by Patty Haberstroh, the program has grown to encompass grades kindergarten through 12, at all Westport schools.
Potential mentors are interviewed and vetted. D’Augelli then works with counselors and teachers to match adults and students, by gender and interests like sports or movies.
Meetings take place during the day, at mutually convenient times. For elementary schoolers that’s usually during lunch, in the library, a classroom or on the playground.
Middle schoolers don’t like missing lunch with friends, so meetings take place at other times. Staples students’ schedules change daily, so that’s another challenge.
Mentor meetings are about 45 minutes long, and friendship-based. The pair play games or talk; it’s not a time for homework or tutoring.
Mentees often come from single-parent homes, or for some other reason need another adult in their lives.
Matches may last long past graduation (which mentors proudly attend). Several mentors have been invited to weddings of mentees.
It may take a while for the relationship to develop. One boy spent 4 years never saying “thank you” or “I’m glad you’re here.” But the mentor kept modeling that behavior.
Recently, the youngster shook his mentor’s hand, and said “thanks.” That’s not why mentors sign up — yet it was an important moment nonetheless.
Every year, Human Services hosts a party for volunteers in all departmental programs. Last year, a mentor asked her very shy mentee if she wanted to meet 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker.
The next day, the girl excitedly told all her friends that she’d met “the mayor of Westport.”
D’Augelli says that many teachers report the mentor program leads to increased participation in class — and greater student confidence too.
“This is so important — especially now, as we’re coming out of COVID,” the coordinator says.
“Everyone needs someone to bounce things off of who is not a parent. They need to have conversations with adults who are their number one fans.”
Though some mentors are retired, adults of any age can apply. The time commitment is small — 30 to 45 minutes once a week (or even once every 2 weeks).
The impact is enormous.
And it lasts a lifetime.
Interested in becoming a mentor? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 203-341-1183.
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