Business mentoring program can help youths rebound

Posted: Wednesday, April 11, 2001

The educational grants coordinator for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District said she has learned a lot about the qualities that help children bounce back from trouble.

The best way to foster that sort of resiliency is to increase children's assets, and local businesses can help, Norma Holmgaard told the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

In the late 1980s, she said, the Lutheran Brotherhood contracted a study to compare successful and unsuccessful children. The study identified 40 assets -- 20 internal and 20 external -- that successful children had more of, she said. Among the external assets were supportive families, productive roles for children, peer influence and adult role models.

Holmgaard she she knows the community does a lot already.

"But there are other things you haven't done that don't cost anything, not a penny and not much time," she said.

She cited a small-town barber who enjoyed announcing high school football games. In his community was a family of sharecroppers, she said. They were poor, and chores left the children little time for after-school activities. For them, the possibility of attending college was remote.

One day, though, a daughter attended a football game, and the barber called her into the announcer's box.

He "got her on the microphone and she started speaking and answering questions, and pretty soon, she was announcing all of the half-time program," he said.

The music teacher recognized her skill and asked her to announce the spring concert, Holmgaard said.

Then, she became involved in debate and other activities.

The barber never knew what would happen when he invited her to the box, she said, and he may not even have known the background.

"But he certainly made a difference in that young woman, who went on to college and to be successful," she said. "It didn't cost him anything extra -- no extra time, no extra money. He just took the opportunity, and maybe even without thinking. And I suspect many of you have found yourselves in that same situation, there were some young people hanging out in your business, and taking the time to say, 'Hey, what are you guys up to today?' and answering questions."

Mentoring programs are becoming very effective, she said, and research shows that business people can make a big difference in the lives of children who have no significant adult relationships.

The school district can help people who want to support the teens who visit their businesses, she said.

"I know some of you whose children are already through the system, but there are still some more kids out there who could use a smile ... some encouragement to set goals," she said.

"A lot of times we find that our children who struggle most don't have a goal, don't have that hope, and it only takes an adult, whoever that is, to encourage them to do that."

In response to a question, Holmgaard said she knows of no active mentoring programs within the school district now, though Kenai Central High School may be working on one. The school district also is looking into mentoring.

"One of the goals of the long-term plan is to take a look at the Aspirations program, which is a mentoring program," she said. "Several folks from the area will be traveling to a training in June ... to learn how to implement that."

Mentoring programs generally begin with a handful of children, then grow, she said.

"We're hoping we can plant the seeds solidly in the fall so that it will continue to grow and then add on schools as these schools we're targeting are showing success," she said.

Amy Anderson, executive director of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is looking into expanding its annual Job Shadow Day for Kenai Central High School juniors to include a mentoring program. While the chamber placed 115 students for this year's Job Shadow Day, the mentoring program likely would begin with just six or 10 students, she said.

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