- Associated Press - Friday, May 27, 2016

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Growing up in a home as one of six children, Tianna Lee didn’t always get the kind of individual attention she might have needed.

“Everybody was doing their own thing,” she said. “Everybody was just busy.”

So, as a fourth-grader at Booker T. Elementary School, Lee entered the C-U One-to-One Mentoring program, where she was linked with Kelly Edwards. And as Lee prepares to graduate from Centennial High School next month, that relationship continues, one of many that will be celebrated at a year-end scholarship banquet.

The bond has evolved from talking about “kiddie things” when Lee was a preteen to dishing about the latest twist on “Scandal” - without spoiling the plot lines of the TV drama for one another.

They’ve come a long way, these two.

“Like kids are, she was kind of curious. She was very quiet when I first started with her,” Edwards said.

“It was weird at first, just different,” Lee said. “But then she wanted to play the games I wanted to play and it was just all about me so I enjoyed that.”

Once Lee got comfortable with the idea of having Edwards around as a mentor - it didn’t take long - she was all for it. Personal attention, a confidant and someone to hold her accountable were all things the young Lee needed in her life.

And now, if she ever needs advice about something going on in her life, Lee knows who to turn to.

It’s not just some out-of-touch “old-people” advice, either.

“It’s young-people advice and she’s open and caring and understanding,” Lee said. “As I grow older, I’ve changed and she’s grown with me.”

A mother of three who works as an office support specialist at the University of Illinois in facilities and services, Edwards had no experience in mentoring before striking up the relationship with Lee through C-U One-to-One. Her husband, Phil, an Urbana firefighter, had long been involved with the program and after attending a meeting at work about mentoring, she thought she’s give it a shot herself.

“They really supported it at work and I thought about it and decided to try it,” Edwards said.

It’s been a rewarding experience for her, too, as she prepares to watch Lee graduate from high school and likely head to college.

“She’s really come into her own as a young lady and I’ve seen the maturity in her,” Edwards said.

Lee hasn’t decided which college she’ll attend, but continuing her education is the plan.

“I’ll probably be deciding in the next two weeks,” she said.

That part wasn’t always a given for Lee, a self-described procrastinator.

“There were times when I’d have a test in like two days and I hadn’t studied and I would tell Kelly and we would get together and she’d make flash cards for me and get me ready for the test,” Lee recalled.

And if she’s just having a bad day, Lee can count on Edwards to be there to help make it better.

“If I’m stressed out or something, I talk to her and she’ll have me come over and we’ll make pillows together,” Lee said. “She would just do little stuff like that for me.”

Though their official time together is coming to an end, this isn’t the end of their story. They’re linked for life.

“It’s like family,” Edwards said. “You gain another family member. I’m going to miss not coming up (to Centennial) to see her.”

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Source: The (Champaign) News-Gazette, http://bit.ly/21G0R7z

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Information from: The News-Gazette, http://www.news-gazette.com

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