- Associated Press - Monday, December 14, 2015

CARMI, Ill. (AP) - Hope, 12, speaks of being poor as a matter of fact, to a stranger who asks, anyway. It’s the same when it comes to her limited relationships with adults.

Hope Taylor lives with her disabled grandmother in Harrisburg. Also in the household are aunts and an uncle and their children.

Roughly three months ago, she met Maggie Gonzalez, a 25-year-old case manager for Harrisburg-based Mentors 4 Kids.

Gonzalez and Hope are considered a match, a mentor and mentee, and more with each moment spent together.

“I still think it’s a really good program. It helps me connect with people. It helps me realize that you don’t have to be alone. You don’t have to be poor and not able to do things,” Hope said.

Mentors 4 Kids started in 2009, serving Franklin, Gallatin, Jefferson, Saline, Williamson and White counties. Another mentoring program was about to disband, prompting a grassroots movement to organize another to keep some semblance of the “beneficial” program going, Gonzalez said.

There are now 25 matches, added Gonzalez between setting up for a fundraiser at First United Methodist Church in Carmi with Taylor there to help.

Along with Gonzalez’ position, an executive director, Vickey Taake, is the only other paid employee. Advisory board members throughout the service region help with other work.

There are 11 children on the group’s wait list, Gonzalez said. The program is typically geared toward children who might be without a parent or both or who might have financial or other disadvantages that limit a child’s ability to experience activities outside their homes. The age range for mentees is 5 to 17.

Mentors, after training, spend a minimum of six hours a month for a year with their mentees, though more time is always welcomed. They are only asked to spend time with their mentees, to become friends, advocates and to listen. They are not asked to be baby sitters or parents or to spend money on activities.

“I think that is the most important part, that you are genuine,” Gonzalez said. “I would treat people that I have naturally came into friendships with the same that I treat her — and I do.”

The relationship is not one-sided. Just as mentees benefit, so, too, do mentors. David Hoskins has mentored Larry Shelton for nearly three years.

The 61-year-old Norris City man and the 16-year-old Carmi teen share more than their common interests.

“He’s almost like my son,” Hoskins said. He and his wife have worked as house parents for girls for a number of years, but they have no children of their own.

“It helps the child, but it also helps the person that is mentoring, as well. I look forward to when me and Larry do get together,” he added. “He is one of my best friends.”

Larry said he is a different person today than he was three years ago. He gets his homework done. He participates in more outdoor activities. He’s learned how to work on cars.

He and Hoskins have gone shopping or watched baseball. They go to restaurants. They talk.

“Whenever I am at my house, I have nothing to do, just sleep all day,” Larry said. “But when I am in the Mentors 4 Kids program, I have something to do almost every week.”

And then there’s Hope. She, too, has found a friend. They often spend more time together than the required minimum, much of it laughing with each other.

Gonzalez is “just like a friend, someone you can trust, just like hang around and not have to worry about getting made fun of,” Hope said.


Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, https://bit.ly/1QQSlQA


Information from: Southern Illinoisan, https://www.southernillinoisan.com

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