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Mentoring Hope, Part 2

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In the Boutin family's kitchen everyone stays busy.

"It's family time; you get to spend some time with your kids," mom Brenda said.

Once a month Brenda and her kids roll up their sleeves and make meals for dozens of needy seniors in Starksboro.

"Jesus walked the earth and did everything he could and gave away everything he had and as human beings, leaving religion out of it, if we don't do for others then where are we going to be," Brenda said.

For this full-time working mom it's one way she can teach her 9-year-old daughter, Hope, about the world around her, but she knew that exposing her to life and experiences beyond their Starksboro home would take help.

"I felt Hope needed a mentor to be able to see a world through different eyes than through mine," Brenda said.

That's why the fourth-grader has been paired with her Robinson Elementary School mentor, Margaret Clark Jackson, since the first grade. They're one of 28 matches at the school where kids from challenging family and socio-economic backgrounds are picked first for the program. Together they spend up to six hours a week exploring common interests and trying new things.

"One time she beat me at Sorry and I was like darn it! I mostly beat you," Hope said.

While the mentors work free of charge, the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union spends tens of thousands of dollars a year in donations, grants and taxes to support the program with a simple goal.

"Their role is to be there and to show up and to be a consistent, caring and safe presence in a child's life," explained Amy Johnston, a guidance counselor and the coordinator of the mentoring program.

"There is another person who cares about her, who listens to her," Margaret said.

But at a time when school budgets are tight and many are being asked to do more with less, how do we know all of the goodwill and time together are paying off?

"Mentors make a tremendous difference in the life of a child," Johnston said. "What we see and the benefits of mentoring are that children grow socially, academically, emotionally under that caring relationship."

Statistics from mentoring organizations Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and the National Mentoring Partnership show kids with a mentor are:

  • 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs
  • 27% less likely to begin drinking alcohol
  • 52% less likely to skip a day of school
  • 32% less likely to engage in physical violence

Hope and Brenda say Margaret has been a perfect fit.

"I think I am more worldly because she has taught me about the world and she has been to a lot of different places," Hope said.

"She is far more mature than a lot of children her age," Brenda said. "And I see a big difference from when she was in the first grade to now and a lot of that is being with Margaret."

Brenda says her focus on making ends meet means it's tough to do as much as she would like to with Hope.

"Margaret is just an astronomically wonderful individual," Brenda said. "She is kind, she is generous of heart, she is very calm in situations where I probably wouldn't be."

And mom says Margaret has exposed Hope to art, culture and customs beyond their hometown.

"She fills a space in Hope's life that allows Hope to have someone different and someone who can do some of the little things she likes to do," Brenda said.

Brenda's message to parents who feel like having a mentor for their kids means they've failed or are being replaced is to relax and to look at the big picture.

"I think that I would say to them this is a good thing. This is not about you as a parent; it's a helping hand for you to help your child be a better person," she said.

And Margaret admits it's helped her as well.

"I wouldn't say it keeps me young, but it does certainly keep me in touch with that part of me and that part of the people around me," she said.

Even if that means brushing up on some long-forgotten skills.

"Having Hope in my life gets me sitting in that classroom with a bunch of fourth graders which wouldn't be my normal venue," Margaret said.

"I think an adult should be a mentor because not much people are mentors and there should be more mentors in the world, because I think each kid should have a mentor to spend time with," Hope said.

With help from Vermont' Mentoring Partnership, Mobius, mentoring programs have expanded to a number of other schools in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union this year, and the program that Hope's involved with that once stopped at sixth grade now runs through high school.

Related Story:

Mentoring Hope, Part 1

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