Help a child by becoming a mentor

Published 9:49 am Friday, January 20, 2012

Mentoring a child or teen can be a great way to volunteer while also making a difference in a person’s life.

Irasema Hernandez, 21, is doing just that. She mentors Breanna Allen through STARS/Community Mentor Connection and said it’s rewarding for her.

Nick Spilman, of Wells, drew this cartoon to express his thoughts on having a mentor.

“I started mentoring in Austin,” Hernandez said.

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Hernandez lives in Albert Lea, but works at Gerard Academy in Austin as a counselor. She went to school at Riverland Community College but now studies at Kaplan University. She first got into mentoring from a friend who works at Ellis Middle School, where she mentored children for a few years. Now through Community Mentor Connection, she mentors just one — Allen.

“Since I have only her you get to spend more time with them,” Hernandez said.

She said that having more alone time with a child can get them to talk more about things that are bothering them that they might not go to their parents about.

Together Hernandez and Allen like to scrapbook and do crafts, bake, go to movies or to restaurants or do other activities like bowling. Hernandez said she was set up with a child who has similar interests.

“I think we’re both creative, that’s how we’re similar,” Hernandez said.

Carolyn Smith is the program coordinator for STARS/Community Mentor Connection and said Hernandez is a good mentor.

“She’s a very busy person, working and going to school, but she manages to find time for her mentee and they do really fun things together,” Smith said.

Hernandez said her favorite memory with Allen is when they attempted to make Christmas cookies. She said that while the baking part didn’t go so well, they had a lot of fun in the process.

Mentoring helps Hernandez feel accomplished, and the hardest part often is scheduling time to meet with her mentee. Hernandez works full time and goes to school, so sometimes it can be hard to find time after Allen is done with school to meet. Hernandez said she never had a mentor, and that she tries to help Allen as much as she can.

“I get the joy of saying I’m making a difference,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez helps talk with Allen about reading more, because Allen says she doesn’t enjoy reading very much. Just like a parent would, Hernandez tells Allen that she doesn’t have to read long books but she does need to read something. She hopes Allen listens to her because it’s different than listening to a parent. She said she hopes to continue mentoring because she enjoys it so much.


How mentoring works

Support for education
• Mentors help keep students in school.
• Students who meet regularly with their mentors are 52 percent less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and 37 percent less likely to skip a class.
• Mentors help with homework and can improve their mentees’ academic skills.

Support with day-to-day living
• Mentors help improve a young person’s self-esteem.
• Mentors provide support for students trying new behaviors.
• Youth who meet regularly with their mentors are 46 percent less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs and 27 percent less likely to start drinking.
• About 40 percent of a teenager’s waking hours are spent without companionship or supervision. Mentors provide teens with a valuable place to spend free time.
• Mentors teach young people how to relate well to all kinds of people and help them strengthen communication skills.

Support in the workplace
• Mentors help young people set career goals and start taking steps to realize them.
• Mentors can use their personal contacts to help young peple meet industry professionals, find internships and locate job possibilities.
• Mentors introduce young people to professional resources and organizations they may not know about.
• Mentors can help their mentees learn how to seek and keep jobs.

The number of ways mentoring can help a youth are as varied as the people involved in each program. While the lists and statistics can be impressive, personal stories can be even more impressive.


Who can have a mentor?

Parents can request a mentor for any child from 7 to 17 who needs guidance and support through STARS/Community Mentor Connection by calling 507-383-5272 or emailing
Volunteers must submit an application, allow background checks and reference checks, be interviewed, attend orientation and report to a coordinator regularly.