- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (AP) - Jan Sherrell spends an hour a week either jumping rope, sitting and reading or sometimes just talking, but she said it’s time well spent.

“You don’t have to be a teacher, you just have to care about kids,” Sherrell told the News and Tribune (http://bit.ly/1CPgGfB ). “It’s a lot of fun to remember what a second-grader does. It’s a lot of fun to revisit that world and enjoy the things they enjoy, reading books at their level and playing games.”

Every Wednesday morning at Slate Run Elementary School, volunteers like Sherrell come from the Southern Indiana Mentoring Partnership to meet up with a student and spend an hour with them. Sometimes that means helping with homework and sometimes it means getting in a little exercise.

Jerry Finn, executive director of the Horseshoe Foundation, has helped build the partnership for about a year. He said they’ve taken a look at the different ways adults can get involved in the lives of young people with the intent to enrich them.

“It’s just about building a relationship with a kid who needs another person in their life,” Finn said. “I just feel like we, as a community, need to do more to help these kids.”

The local program is tied into the Indiana Mentoring Partnership through the Indiana Youth Institute. Finn said the local group has its own Facebook page established and a website is coming soon.

He said they’ve already garnered the support of a lot of entities in different ways - including the YMCA of Southern Indiana, Indiana University Southeast, Greater Clark County Schools, the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. and others - to meet young people at different levels.

At New Albany-Floyd County schools, that means meeting kids through the district’s Mentor Mii program, which stands for Mentors get Involved and Inspire. At Greater Clark, mentors work hand-in-hand to help students through a workforce-focused program to get them skills with employers.

Finn said though the idea varies in different programs, the central mission is to get adults to help young people who need it.

“We’re not telling everybody you have to do it this way, that’s not our role at all,” Finn said. “We want to show them what opportunities there are and let them choose what to do.”

At Slate Run, Principal Amy Niemeier said the program has been running since she took the helm at the school three years ago. She said the kids in Mentor Mii have different needs, whether they’re dealing with academic problems, issues at home or they’ve lost a loved one. She said having another adult offer support can really help them along in life.

“I would say it’s a great need,” Niemeier said. “We’re always looking for role models to come in and help guide our students. It definitely takes a village and the school is just a part of that. We know parents are the first teachers and we only have them for a few years, but we continually have a need.”

She said in a lot of situations, she sees mentors follow their mentees through middle school or high school, which gives those students another shoulder to lean on.

“It’s been a fantastic program and our doors are always open to new volunteer who want to come in,” Niemeier said. “I’ve heard mentors say how rewarding it is to have developed a relationship with a child starting in second grade and seeing how they grow. They really create some wonderful bonds.

“It’s definitely advantageous to the mentee, but I think the mentors get a sense of pride and really enjoy that, as well.”

Finn said the group is trying to stay accountable to what it’s doing by tracking results. IU Southeast has helped tabulate data on how students have been helped and the degree of involvement from mentors.

He said they’re also trying to get more involvement going in the community. With the hiring of a community mentor champion coming soon, he said they’ll reach out to businesses and other organizations to see what they can offer, as well as recruit mentors for different programs.

For Sherrell, she said she hopes she can make a difference in the life of her mentee and that others volunteer to do the same.

“It’s been proven that when kids have a connection and that someone cares about them, they excel and do better,” Sherrell said. “I just thought I could be that extra relationship in a kid’s life. I really wanted (an) elementary (student) because if they don’t get that foundation with reading and everything else, their chances of success are lessened, also.”

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Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., http://www.newsandtribune.com

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