Mentoring Hope, Part 1 - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Mentoring Hope, Part 1

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Nine-year-old Hope Boutin is eager to see the world.

"I want to go to Japan because they speak a lot of different languages there and they have three different ways of writing," Hope said.

And once she's done with Asia she's heading for Brazil.

"People-- since it is really hot there-- wear flip-flops," she said.

But the fourth-grader hasn't always longed for a passport. She got the travel bug from 68-year-old Margaret Clark Jackson.

"My experiences, the fact that I travel a lot means that I have been able to take her in a nonliteral way outside of Starksboro, South Starksboro," Margaret said.

For the last three-and-a-half years these two have made quite the pair.

"She is a lively, very bright little girl," Margaret said.

Hope and Margaret make up one of dozens of mentor-mentee partnerships at the Robinson Elementary School in Starksboro. Margaret saw it as an opportunity to try something new.

"I came here at a time in my life where my life was closing down, shutting down more than it was opening up," she said.

And Hope jumped right in.

"We have a tech lab here and I taught her these websites about math," Hope said.

The two spend at least an hour a week together.

"A little bit of this and a little bit of that," Margaret said. "I often come here and have lunch with her and we chat or do some kind of little project."

"She teaches me stuff and she brings me places I have never been before and my mom can't afford them," Hope said.

Guidance Counselor Amy Johnston coordinates the mentoring program.

"When they see a mentor come in they'll say, 'Can I have a mentor?'" Johnston said.

She makes matches based on a number of factors and says students picked first often come from challenging backgrounds, qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and have parents juggling multiple jobs to make things work.

"I have 28 mentors so that means 28 hours a week a child is spending with a safe, caring adult, who has unconditional regard for that child," Johnston said.

Johnston says a mix of town dollars, donations and grants help cover the roughly $800 it costs her per match for things like background checks, activities and supplies. Limited finances and a lack of mentors mean the effort can only go so far.

"I wish that all 155 of my students had mentors because I see the light in a child's eyes the day their mentor comes to visit them, and I hear the stories they tell about the experiences they have had," Johnston said.

The challenge to make matches exists across Vermont. Mentoring groups Kids Count Data Center, MENTOR, the National Mentoring Partnership and Mobius-Vermont's Mentoring Partnership estimate there are at least 2,500 formal pairings around the state but that another 15,500 kids are considered "at-risk" of facing "barriers for achieving economic and social mobility." and are in "strong need" of a mentor.

"I hope to keep her studying," Margaret said. "I hope she realizes that what she has, her natural talents, there is a lot for her out there."

"It is really nice having a mentor and it is nothing to be afraid about," Hope said.

In fact it's something these ladies celebrate. For Margaret, it means sharing her heart and the decades of experiences behind her.

"It's just been very good to feel part of her life and that I was doing something that apparently was making a difference," Margaret said.

And for Hope, it gives a glimpse of the possibilities and promise that lie ahead no matter where in the world she ends up.

"I would say, Margaret, I am really thankful that I have you as a mentor because you are the most amazing person I have met in my life," Hope said.

This week we're also inviting you to tell us about the mentors in your life. Was it a coach, teacher or scout leader? You can share a picture with us on Facebook or on Twitter with the hashtag #WCAXMENTOR.

Related Story:

Mentoring Hope, Part 2

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