Mentors help students find own way

Helen Germann, middle, a longtime mentor and volunteer coordinator at Jefferson City High School, is toasted by her volunteers during the annual Christmas luncheon she holds. Seated, from left clockwise, are: Linda Smith, Germann, Susan Frederick and Cindy Cook. Germann plans to retire in May.

Helen Germann, middle, a longtime mentor and volunteer coordinator at Jefferson City High School, is toasted by her volunteers during the annual Christmas luncheon she holds. Seated, from left clockwise, are: Linda Smith, Germann, Susan Frederick and Cindy Cook. Germann plans to retire in May. Photo by Julie Smith.

Life comes without a guidebook. And circumstances can create obstacles too great to overcome alone.

No matter one’s age, a mentor to talk to can be invaluable.

“Everyone needs to look up to someone,” said Randy Ford. “(Al Myers) ‘The king’ is that for me; he’s a good example of a person you would want to be fashioned after.”

Myers has been involved with the Jefferson City High School mentoring program since its inception 18 years ago, often mentoring four to six students at one time. And for the past six years, Ford has been observing and imitating Myers’ work with students.

For the past 17 years, Helen Germann has coordinated the mentor program, which matches about 50 students with a community member for 30 minutes once a week during school.

But often, the mentors build relationships that go beyond the school doors into adulthood.

“Young men in their 20s and 30s are still growing and maturing,” Myers said. “That’s why I want to stay in contact with them as they go on through life.

“I have old friends, too, who I need to talk to.”

Wonderful people get involved with the mentoring program, Germann said.

“I tell them: ‘The road of life is what you’re on right now. And I have had or know someone who has been where you’re at. I can see around the corner,’” Myers said.

Mentors include businessmen, college students and retired teachers.

“We want consistency,” Germann said of those recruited. “It’s really important to not be one more person who disappoints them.”

One mentor was asked to be best man at a former mentee’s wedding.

“It takes a caring, consistent person,” Germann said. “No one can tell you how to do that. It just comes naturally to some people who want to nurture and encourage these kids in any way they can.”

However, the students cannot be stereotyped.

Academic troubles may lead them to the program, but it’s often underlying complications that have caused the distraction.

Sometimes it’s the absence of a parent or trouble with the law or a transfer student challenged by the large school setting.

“Every child has a different subject to talk about,” said mentor Gloria Overfelt.

But some are college-bound, so the mentors encourage them to take the ACT and consider college.

Ford once mentored a student who might have been labeled “impossible” for three years. When the student finally made it to graduation, he called Ford to say “thank you for not giving up on me,” Germann praised.

“Graduation is not necessarily the goal; it’s a change in life,” Ford said.

One former mentee walks into Germann’s office today with a confident smile. But when he first met Ford as his mentor, he wouldn’t lift his head and gave only one-word answers to questions.

Another student had difficulty getting up in the morning. So Ford gave him an alarm clock. And when that didn’t work, the mentor faithfully called the student each morning.

“As you find out more about the kids, you get involved,” Ford said.

At the same time, mentors must keep a check on their emotions, Overfelt said.

“It’s a fine balance between a thick skin and soft heart,” Germann said. “You have to be perceptive.”

At the end of each school year, the mentors and students are treated to a fine dining experience by some of the mentors’ employers.

There the seniors share their goals, which offers direction for the younger students.

“I get goosebumps to see they will make something of their lives,” Germann said.

Germann has records from each year to keep track of names and faces. And she knows her mentors’ personalities, which allow her to make educated matches with new students.

Whoever replaces her, after Germann retires in May, will take on a district-wide mentoring program.

“This job fits perfectly with my philosophy of life — I want to affect kids’ lives in a positive way,” Germann said.

“I hope the next person enjoys it as much as I have.”

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