Guest Column: Make a difference by being a mentor to a child

Published 9:26 pm Thursday, January 4, 2018

Guest Column by Mary Jo Volkman

January is National Mentoring Month. This campaign entitled, “In Real Life,” focuses on the real life benefits of mentoring young people, as well as the life-changing stories shared by mentors themselves. In Freeborn and the  eastern-portion of Faribault counties, we have a mentoring program called STARS — Success Through Adults Reaching Students. Presently, in the cities of Albert Lea, Kiester and Wells, 21 adult volunteers are matched with youth, ranging in ages from 7 to 18 years old. According to the mission of STARS, these adult mentors are dedicated to help guide and support their matched youth, along with empower them to make positive life choices and develop to their fullest potential.

Mary Jo Volkman

A report by Mentor: The National Mentoring Partnership found that young adults who were at risk for not completing high school but who had a mentor were:

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• 55 percent more likely to be enrolled in college than those who did not have a mentor.

• 81 percent more likely to report participating regularly in sports or extracurricular activities.

• More than twice as likely to say they held a leadership position in a club or sports team.

• 78 percent more likely to volunteer regularly in their communities.

Throughout this month of January, we have the opportunity in Freeborn and eastern Faribault counties to highlight quality mentoring programs, such as STARS Mentoring, that produce these positive benefits.

Thank you for our community, who strongly supports mentoring. Mayor Vern Rasmussen is going to proclaim January as National Mentoring Month in Albert Lea and Mayor Dave Braun in Wells at their upcoming City Council meetings on Monday. Mayor Wes Webb proclaimed January National Mentoring Month in Glenville at their last City Council meeting on Dec. 26. Freeborn County commissioners are going to declare January as National Mentoring Month in Freeborn County at their next county commissioners meeting Jan. 16. Thank you to these mayors and commissioners who help honor the contributions of mentors and mentoring in this community, ultimately making our community stronger.

Mentor’s report found that one in three young people will reach age 19 without a mentor. In our community, there are caring adult volunteers that mentor children in the STARS Program. I wish to big-heartedly thank the adult volunteers in our program. Through their generous gift of time and interest in youth, the young people in our program have a one-to-one relationship and positive role model through a caring adult friend. Research has shown that when youth are matched through a quality mentoring program, mentors can play a powerful role in providing young people with the tools to make responsible decisions, stay focused and engaged in schools, and reduce or avoid risky behavior like skipping school, drug use and other negative activities.

At its most basic level, mentoring is successful in real life because it guarantees a young person has an adult to turn to and that they have a guiding hand to help them in dealing with day-to-day challenges. A year-round strategy for STARS should focus on a growing capacity to ensure every young person who needs a mentor is connected to a compassionate adult. At a more complex level, there is a powerful mentoring effect that ultimately makes our communities stronger.

For information about our local STARS Mentoring Program, you can contact me at 507-383-5272,; and on Facebook, Stars for Kids.

Mary Jo Volkman is the project coordinator for STARS in Freeborn and Faribault counties.