No Positive Role Models at Home for Youth? How One Church Offers Advice, Guidance and Goal Setting Through Their Mentors
By Lindsay Peyton - En Español
Russell Memorial UMC in Wills Point wanted to do something special to help area students excel – and after years of searching for a program that fit the bill -- decided to simply start its own. The church’s mentorship program at Wills Point Middle School launched this fall and is already making a positive impact.
Pastor David Cartwright said the program was inspired by a speaker at Annual Conference who addressed ways churches could partner with schools. “We brought his video back and watched it one weekend,” Cartwright said. “We talked about what God might be calling our church to do. That was the beginning point, just starting to think about our local schools as part of our mission field.”
When, shortly after that, leaders at the Wills Point Independent School District began talking about starting a mentorship program, Russell Memorial UMC thought it might be a match made in heaven.
“But it never happened,” Cartwright said. “Then, we thought, why not eliminate the middle man?”
Instead of waiting for the school district to start a program, the congregation stepped up to create its own.
“It took a while to get our plans in place and get the volunteers on board,” Cartwright said. “But for the most part, our volunteers were pretty quick to get on board.”
He explained that a number of church members responded right away and went into action. “All we’re doing is building a relationship,” he said.
According to MENTOR: the National Mentoring Partnership, research shows that mentoring relationships have a positive impact on youth in a number of ways. In fact, young adults who were at-risk but had a mentor are 55 percent more likely to enroll in college and 78 percent more likely to volunteer regularly. They are 130 percent more like to hold leadership positions and 90 percent more interested in becoming a mentor themselves.
MENTOR also states that there are 16 million young people, ages 8 to 18, who are growing up without a mentor, without a trusted adult who can provide advice and guidance. These children are facing challenges every day that can put them at risk – and having a mentor can make a world of difference.
Russell Memorial UMC mentors meet students for lunch during the school day and spend the time talking and even playing games, coordinator of the program, Jana Davis explained. Sometimes a game of chess, for example, helps break the ice. Other times, students have plenty they want to discuss with the adults.
Davis is a retired teacher and was excited to start this ministry with Cartwright. “It just came together,” she said. “Having been a teacher, I know what some of these kids are going through. I’ve seen their home life and the things they have to handle on a day-to-day basis. They tug on my heart, and I wanted to do something to help.”
She was surprised by the number of volunteers who signed up.
Children are selected by their teachers, who are on a mentor committee.
Before the program began, Davis held a brief training session with volunteers. Each week, she provides the mentors with activities and inspirational quotes. “But they don’t have to follow the plan, because each child is different,” she said.
The mentors discuss emotions, self-control and setting goals with the students. A recent activity, inspired by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asked children to describe their dreams.
“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback,” Davis said. “The teachers see the kids and the way they respond to their mentors. They see a difference in the child.”
Assistant principal Kimberly Fritchman has witnessed that transformation first hand. “A lot of these kids don’t have that positive role model in their lives,” she said.
Now, Fritchman sees students smiling and excited to meet with their mentors. “They’re just beaming, because they know it’s going to be their special day,” she said. “They’re getting positive, consistent care that they were not getting before. It’s making a great impact on our kids.”
Cartwright also serves as a mentor and enjoys spending time with his student. “He’s just fantastic,” Cartwright said. “He gets in trouble at school sometimes, and then we talk about what’s happening. We work it out.”
They discuss goals – and ways to accomplish them. “Every week I ask him how it’s going,” Cartwright said. “And he says, ‘I’m getting better.’”
Russell Memorial said that the mentoring program goes hand-in-hand with the We Love All God’s Children initiative of the Texas Annual Conference. The church also hosts tutoring and discipleship programs.
Through mentoring, Cartwright said, children can benefit from having a positive adult role model.
“By just putting a positive adult with a kid, the fruit of that is overall better success as the kids go through the school year,” Cartwright said. “And we will trust God for the fruit of it.”
Cartwright wants children to know that they are valued. “We’re here,” he said. “God cares about you, and that’s why we’re here.”
Mentors are able to discuss faith if a child brings it up, Davis said. She also believes that faith has an important role in encouraging volunteers to participate in the program.
“The Bible tells us we need to be in the hands and feet,” she said. “We need to help those in need, and these kids are in need of a positive role model who can help them make good decisions and teach them different ways to handle things.”
She and Cartwright prayed a lot as they developed the program – and now she believes it could inspire other churches to consider mentoring.
“I can really see God’s hand in how all of this came about,” she said. “We hope other people will see that this is a good thing and start it too. It’s just about showing love to a child and making a connection.”