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June 1, 2020
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Guilford Youth Mentoring Celebrates 20 Years of Building Bridges with Students

Published Jan. 08, 2020

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Two decades ago, a retiring school psychologist at Guilford High School (GHS) and a handful of volunteers from the Guilford Savings Bank got together with a simple mission: Provide schoolchildren of all ages with positive adult role models, creating simple but powerful bonds in search of better outcomes and experiences for youth in town.

Today, more than 160 volunteers take part in what is now known as Guilford Youth Mentoring (GYM), a non-profit that operates closely within the Guilford school system, providing one-on-one, mostly unstructured interactions between empathetic adults from a variety of backgrounds with students—something that GYM Program Coordinator Lisa Ott said is an invaluable positive for the kids.

January is National Mentoring Month, and GYM is taking that opportunity to let residents know what a powerful and amazing opportunity mentoring is, along with marking 20 years of the organization.

“When I think about when I have a chance to spend time with somebody one-on-one when there isn’t some big agenda,” Ott said, “and the kinds of people that made me feel significant when I was a little kid—the people who just spent time with me—that time was magic. And that time has a lasting impact on kids, without it being anything complicated.”

How the program functions is simple, Ott said. Students are referred to the program often by teachers or guidance counselors, and GYM connects them with a mentor. The student then decides what they want to do for an hour’s worth of non-judgmental, unstructured time—everything from fishing in nearby ponds to sledding on snowy hills around the school building, Ott said.

“Baldwin’s got a great pond for fishing,” Ott said.

According to Ott, Barbara Solomon, a GHS school psychologist, was asked to help lead a partnership between Guilford Youth & Family Services and the school in 1999, with 12 total mentors, right as she was retiring.

“They said, ‘Hey, why don’t you just stay on for another six months, and just do this’ and then she stayed for 15 years,” Ott said, laughing.

Solomon still serves on the GYM board, and Ott described her as “an amazing resource” for the program to this day.

As part of its continued mission and as a way to commemorate its 20 years of work, Ott said that GYM has worked this year to host workshops given by The Search Institute, a Minnestota-based company that provides surveys, data, and resources to improve holistic outcomes for young people.

“We want Guilford to be at the forefront of building a healthier community for our kids,” Ott said. “And Guilford loves our kids, so it’s a really great place to start working on this.”

Ott also said that GYM is planning a “big party celebration” this April, which will include both past and present mentors and mentees and will give everyone in the program a chance to appreciate some of the great things that have happened through the program.

“It’s more than just, ‘Yay us.’ It’s really about helping keep those connections going...our mentors are so committed,” Ott said.

Though employees of GYM are Guilford school employees, Ott said that the program receives a good amount of funding from the Guilford Savings Bank, the Guilford Community Fund, and the Guilford Rotary Club, among others, which helps them provide training for mentors as well as other educational materials.

Students who participate in the mentorship program come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and can have needs that regular, relaxed time with a mentor can help meet.

“All the research shows that the power really comes from the relationship itself. It’s not about having an agenda and trying to get math homework done,” Ott said.

Often students are new to the district, or are having trouble making connections within the traditional school setting. Ott said that often all it takes is an empathetic ear, and someone who just wants to get to know the student while maybe offering some of the wisdom acquired by age.

“It’s simple stuff—it’s feeling like someone in school cares about you,” Ott said.

For more information on Guilford Youth Mentoring, visit www.guilfordmentoring.org.


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