Checking their math homework. Shooting hoops at the park. Supporting words through a text message or just listening in a way a parent or peer can’t.
Everyone has had a rough spot in life, most likely in that awkward stage of adolescence. Having someone to talk to who has been through the same troubles can be an immense pillar of support, or even a lifesaver.
And it seems, more than ever, young people need someone to look up to.
This January is the 12th anniversary of National Mentoring Month, which imparts a national effort by several mentoring groups to recruit volunteer mentors for young adults. According to the Midlands Mentoring Partnership, more than 15,000 matches of mentor and mentee exist in Nebraska through various organizations. Two of those organizations, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands and the TeamMates Mentoring Program, are alive and well in Sarpy County and Ralston.
Nichole Turgeon is the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands. She said January is very important to her organization. It serves as a time to boost local efforts to raise awareness of what mentoring is and how it helps our community, she said.
“The kids in our program are looking for another adult to spend some time with them,” Turgeon said. And she would know — she’s a mentor, herself. Turgeon is a mentor to a Little Sister for nearly seven years. They go to movies together and she said while she has had an impact on her Little Sister, her Little Sister has had an impact on her, as well.
She said her organization works through 150 schools in the area, with a high number of those in Sarpy County. They currently have 826 matches right now, but want to achieve more than 900 matches by the end of the year.
“I would just say it’s a lot of fun to be a mentor,” Turgeon said.
On Saturday morning, Brian and Linda Reddish made the short trek from their Bellevue home to the neighborhood park. Both mentors are part of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Brian chases after his Little Brother, Jaxson, as they cross the bridge over the creek to the playground. Earlier that morning, 7-year-old Jaxson came over and the trio made pigs in a blanket. Brian takes turns pushing Jaxson on the swings while Linda talks to the boy about school.
The Reddish couple have been married for seven years. Brian Reddish was in the Air Force and now works as a financial analyst for ConAgra. Linda Reddish is an early childhood specialist. The couple became interested in mentoring two years ago, and worked with the Midlands Mentoring Partnership to find the right mentee for them.
“I had a tough home life growing up,” Linda Reddish said. “I had someone who saw something special in me, and I wanted to be that someone for another kid who could use the help.”
Brian Reddish said he was motivated because he wanted to do something different, and helping a child seemed like the best thing to do.
The pair hang out with Jaxson when they can, and help him with his spelling homework, among other things. During weeks they can’t meet, they videochat through Skype. Jaxson used to have trouble with spelling as a school subject, but Linda Reddish said he now gets 100 percent on his tests.
“I feel like it has expanded my knowledge about life, and made me a better person,” Brian Reddish said.
Jaxson said he has enjoyed spending time with the couple.
When asked by Brian Reddish what his favorite thing about having a Big Brother and Big Sister was, Jaxson said brownies and ice cream.
“I have a lot of fun with them, I’m glad they’re my Big Brother and Big Sister,” Jaxson said.
Shawna Mayer, Ralston Public Schools TeamMates coordinator, has been at the job for three years. In that time, they went from eight active matches to 50, and they plan to continue growing the program.
Something new to the program is the TeamMates StrengthFinder, a partnership with Omaha-based Gallup Inc., that seeks to find what a volunteer mentor’s strengths are and pair them with a mentee who can benefit from them the most. Those good at math can help a struggling student with their math homework, for example.
“It gives mentors ideas and tools to help their mentees and themselves,” Mayer said. She also said the program is in high need for male mentors, since a lot of students who are nominated are boys.
Mayer said many who are interested in mentoring are intimidated by not knowing what mentoring consists of. The program provides ways for the mentor to interact with their mentee, from card games to sports to whatever the student wants to do.
RPS has also put together a TeamMates board to help tout the program.
“I’m excited that we’re growing, and hope that we can keep building on our work,” Mayer said.
Maureen McNamara is the Bellevue Public Schools TeamMates coordinator. She said the program has been alive in Bellevue since TeamMates was founded in 1991. They currently have about 120 matches in the BPS system.
McNamara is a mentor herself, and she said TeamMates has a coordinator at each school who oversees the matches there.
“Any time someone has an interest in being a mentor, I tell them it is extremely rewarding,” she said. “It doesn’t take a lot of time to make a difference in the child’s life.”
McNamara said though TeamMates is geared towards mentoring in the schools, it’s important to stay connected outside of the classroom.
Marissa Sadofsky of Papillion works as a billing auditor, but is also a mentor to a 12-year-old girl named Paige. Matched in May of last year, Sadofsky said she became interested in mentoring because of her degree in behavioral science. She felt the need to help kids, and learned from her uncle, who was also a mentor, how rewarding it can be.
“My advice, if you have the time and the dedication, you should do it,” Sadofsky said.
Sadofsky and her mentor often do activities together, from homework to seeing the trains at the Durham Western Heritage Museum.
Paige said having a mentor is different from a parent or counselor.
“I talk to her like a friend,” she said. “If I’m having a bad day, I can text her and feel better. I feel like I always have someone to talk to.”