Mentoring Matters, by Carrie Usher

“Treat others how you wish to be treated” is a common phrase many children hear from their parents while growing up. As a child, it can be difficult to listen to every word parents say. Many life lessons are learned at a young age; however, it may take time to fully appreciate them.
But what if mom or dad is not teaching these life lessons? Where do children turn to learn right from wrong, acceptable behavior and to be a good person? A mentor can teach and encourage behaviors in a way that parents sometimes cannot.
Anyone can be a mentor, a brother, sister, aunt, uncle, neighbor or coach. Mentors are people that others look to for guidance. Often times mentors have qualities we wish we had.
“Rob sort of took me under his wing,” said Will Schiefel of Gwinn.
Schiefel, twenty-two, now realizes how much he learned from his mentor, Rob Soyring.
“Rob was always there, not only for me, but for everyone,” Schiefel said. “He really treated me like family. Rob was a coach of mine during basketball camp. He made everyone feel comfortable and welcome.”
From learning to shoot the perfect jump shot to dating advice, Soyring has watched Schiefel grow from a young boy to a successful adult.
Soyring began mentoring when he was a junior in high school, and said it was his love of sports that initially sparked his interest in mentoring.
“I loved the challenge that coaching basketball provided me,” Soyring said. “It was sort of a balancing act. First you have to know what the parents and kids want and then you have to provide the kids with what they really need.”
Soon after coaching, Soyring began working with the YMCA of Marquette County. The core values of honesty, respect, caring and responsibility that the Y stresses continue to be characteristics he tries to instill in kids he mentors in the Gwinn Saturday Night Hoops program.
“For me, I use sports as the activity, the vehicle that gets the kids in the door,” Soyring said. “If I can teach kids how to work hard in the gym, hopefully they will work hard outside of the gym. It’s not just about learning a sport; it’s really the other lessons, values and characteristics of a team atmosphere that I want the kids to take with them.”
To celebrate the work that mentors do, January has been named National Mentoring Month. It is a time for youth to appreciate and thank the adults who have helped them. It is also a time for mentors to realize what they have given to others.
Mentoring can take many roles. Some volunteer with organizations to become mentors and others just are mentors without even knowing it. Either way, National Mentoring Month gives everyone the opportunity to say thank you.
Monika Jenczala of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Marquette County said that January 25 is National Thank Your Mentor Day. Artwork created by volunteers, mentors and youth will be on display at various businesses throughout Marquette and Alger counties. The artwork will depict what mentoring means to each individual. A variety of activities is being planned for the month-long celebration. One activity is a service project honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Mentors and mentees are encouraged to volunteer together in our local communities,” Jenczala said. “This is a chance for people to honor the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by participating in service projects.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters plays an important role in shaping the lives of at-risk youth. The one-on-one mentoring makes a significant difference in the lives of the youth served.
“The youth and their parents choose to be in our program and are excited about having a Big Brother or Big Sister,” Jenczala said.
Studies suggest that youth involved with mentoring programs are more confident in their schoolwork performance and they get along better with their families. Jenczala said evidence from Public and Private Ventures (www.ppv.org) shows that Little Brothers and Little Sisters are:
• 46 percent less likely to begin using drugs,
• 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol,
• 52 percent less likely to skip school,
• 37 percent less likely to skip class.
There are a variety of mentoring programs offered by Big Brothers Big Sisters, including the traditional community-based program, the school-based program, the lunch buddy program and the Kappa Kids and Sigma Sisters program. All the programs stress the importance of spending time with children.
“It doesn’t take a lot of time to be a Big,” Jenczala said. “It’s just a commitment to spend regular time with a local child. The activities don’t have to be big. It can be as simple as talking with the child or doing everyday activities.”
The school-based mentoring program matches high school students with elementary and middle school students. Currently, there are about 300 students matched throughout various schools in Marquette and Alger counties. The youth are matched based on compatibility, interests and other match preferences.
K.I. Sawyer Elementary School fifth grade students Frank Hyatt and Cheyenne McCormack are two students who love the Big Brothers Big Sisters school-based mentoring program. The high school mentors visit with their “Littles” every other Tuesday during lunch hour.
“I just love hanging out with the older kids,” Hyatt said. “My mentor is really cool.”
The Littles don’t seem to mind what activity they are doing with the mentors. It could be as simple as eating lunch together, helping out with homework or playing outside—just as long as they get to spend time together.
“My mentor has helped me with my homework,” McCormack said. “And when we get done, we play outside.”
Both students agree they’d like to spend more time with their mentors. And mentors agree that they hope the children will someday go on to mentor other children because the skills and values learned can be passed on from person-to-person.
Mentoring provides a family setting that can be missing from the lives of children.
“There’s no such thing as the perfect family,” Soyring said. “But I always wanted the kids to feel like they were part of my family.”
Mentor Michigan, a program of the Michigan Community Service Commission, provides opportunities for all Michigan youth to develop relationships with positive adult role models. In an effort to recruit more male mentors, Mentor Michigan is sponsoring the Men in Mentoring Recruitment Challenge. The agency that gets the most men to sign up as mentors receives a grant.
There are currently twenty-five children, mostly boys, in Marquette and Alger counties that are waiting to be matched in a Big Brothers Big Sisters traditional community-based program.
“You can really see the difference between boys—girls, too—who don’t have dads actively participating in their lives and the ones that do,” Sorying said. “They really have different needs as far as learning social skills that will help them to excel in life.”
To learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters, visit www.bbbsmqt.org
—Carrie Usher

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