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The Lopez Mentor Program; Two lives are enriched by long lasting relationships
By Cali Bagby
For the last couple of years Barbara Carver has been working on her baseball pitch thanks to the help of nine-year-old Timmy Buchanan. The two spend several hours every Wednesday playing catch, baking treats, like oatmeal cookies and blending smoothies. Sometimes they walk on the beach or play with Carver’s golden retriever. Last week they built, then painted birdhouses.
Carver and Timmy met because Susie Teague, coordinator of the Lopez Island Family Resource Center’s Mentor Program, thought their personalities would make a good match.
The Mentor Program has 20 adults who mentor students, ages elementary to high school. Teague tries to match adults to elementary students so that they can have the same mentor through middle and high school. She has seen some friendships last for nine years.
“I’ve seen a lot of magic between two people,” Teaque said. “We focus on matching for the youth, but the mentor gets as much out of it as the mentee.”
Debbie Collins has no children of her own, so when she met Alyssa Gallagher, it opened the door to seeing the world from a different perspective.
On one of their first outings seven years ago, Collins and Alyssa walked up a tall grassy hill. At the top Alyssa said, “We gotta roll,” and Collins replied, “What?”
Then she found herself rolling down the hill with her new friend. Collins wasn’t thinking about how she looked or about grass stains, she was just having fun.
The mentees get to have fun and have an adult to lean on in tough times.
“If you’re feeling down you can tell them how you’re feeling,” Alyssa said. “They are always there for you.”
Teague said a lot of mentees get excited on Wednesdays, knowing someone is coming just to see them.
The program requires adults to spend at least an hour a week with their mentees. Collins and Alyssa often extend their time to dinners in the evening and weekend visits.
“It’s like an extended family, but we don’t have a grandparent and grandchild relationship as much as we have a friendship,” Carver said about her experiences as a mentor.
The program has youth on the wait list and are looking for mentors to match with children before the summer begins.
Teague enjoys matching people, but finds it tricky to find mentors, who are required to commit to at least a year.
The program provides training and check up meetings to provide, “... a lot of support so they don’t feel alone,” Teague said.
There are also two celebrations every year, a summer picnic and a winter holiday where participants all come together.
Collins and Alyssa plan to attend these celebrations long into the future.
“We’ve developed a really wonderful relationship,” said Collins. “Her [Alyssa’s] dad says when she is 32 I’ll still be her mentor.”