Mentors prepare for another session of offering a guiding hand

Tom McKee, a volunteer mentor with the JC Champions mentor program spends some time with second grader Trey Burton during lunch at West Elementary. McKee, a personal banker with UMB, is given the opportunity by his employer to spend 30 minutes to an hour each week away from work to participate in the mentorship program.

Tom McKee, a volunteer mentor with the JC Champions mentor program spends some time with second grader Trey Burton during lunch at West Elementary. McKee, a personal banker with UMB, is given the opportunity by his employer to spend 30 minutes to an hour each week away from work to participate in the mentorship program. Photo by The Associated Press.

After 17 years of mentoring countless students from elementary to high school ages, Gloria Overfelt continues to be a special friend to students who need a little extra attention.

“Every minute was a joy; each kid was special,” Overfelt said. “The kids have taught me as much as I could have taught them.” Overfelt still hears updates from nowadults whom she has mentored. “They do like to talk about their dreams and the future,” Overfelt said. “I was there to listen.” The Jefferson City Champions program kicks-off in earnest this month, seeking to match more listeners in the community with students in need of a mentor.

As the Champions program kicks-off in earnest at the start of a new calendar year, Gara Loskill, coordinator of character education, suggested it would make a great New Year’s Resolution to sign-up as a volunteer.

January also happens to be National Mentoring Month, paying tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday is celebrated then.

Mentoring in the district began to grow when churches, including First Christian and First Methodist, partnered with East and Thorpe Gordon elementary schools.

“It was hit and miss across the district,” said Kurt Hafley, coordinator of mentoring. “This expands it districtwide with a central location and a way to recruit.”

The new standards have been culled from other successful programs to fit Jefferson City’s needs.

The expanded mentoring enterprise was a priority of Superintendent Brian Mitchell, who was involved in the Friends of Youth project in Kansas City, which provided opportunities for community members to come in and serve kids in need.

The Champions program has restructured and consolidated those to make a more user-friendly approach, Loskill said.

One of the big features is volunteer support, which is where Hafley comes in.

“They’re not out there by themselves,” said Hafley, coordinator of mentoring.

As an arm of the Character-Plus initiative, the mentoring program encourages positive values and attributes, while also building relationships that may keep the next generation committed to Jefferson City, Loskill said.

“It doesn’t take that much,” Hafley said.

In essence, the Champion program expects 20 minutes per week throughout the entire school year from a volunteer, who would become a role model for one student in preschool through high school.

“The people we have already find 20 minutes is the starting point and it grows with the relationship,” Hafley said.

Being a mentor is relationship-based, not monetarily.

“If you form that positive relationship with that kid, it will be longer lasting than any gift or prize you could bring,” Hafley said.

Volunteers will receive eight training sessions after completing an interview, background check and application process before they enter the buildings.

About 150 are in the program now with ten matches made before the Christmas break.

Some potential mentors might be intimidated by the unknown.

“We’re asking volunteers to be a friend and role model — not a tutor, parent, disciplinarian or social worker,” Hafley said.

As the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce is promoting the retention of youth to the area, Loskill noted this is a good avenue for local businesses and organizations to have a first-hand impact for that goal.

“Anyone who has found success in life has had someone who mentored them,” Hafley said.

The Jefferson City Public Schools currently have 8,530 children enrolled.

“This will open the door for many kids in our district who might need that extra support,” Hafley said. “It could make a big difference.”

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