Group aspires to helping out

Posted: Friday, December 17, 2004

Mentors and their students from the Aspirations Mentoring Program pulled together for some volunteer community service in the name of the holidays. Where the mentors and students would normally use their time to talk or play games, the group headed over to The Salvation Army to help with the holiday rush.

Craig Fanning from The Salvation Army said volunteers are a crucial part of the holiday season.

"We wouldn't be able to do the programs we do without the volunteers. They are priceless," he said. "If we don't have volunteers, it doesn't get done. We probably log 500 hours of volunteer work for the holidays, about double what we usually do in a typical month," he said.

Fanning said the Aspirations group played an important role this year.

"They packed around (food) 400 boxes on Tuesday, it's a better product when a group comes in a really hits it," he said.

The students were allowed an hour off school to volunteer. Mentors usually meet with students one hour a week to talk and do various projects within the school, and they decided that helping the community would be a a worthy cause.

The voluntary program was first set up four years ago at Skyview High School and has seen some growth since then. Since its conception in 2000, there are now grant-funded programs in nine schools on the Kenai Peninsula. Sheila-Margaret Pothast, coordinator, says the program started in attempt to reach out to students who may be lacking in connecting with the community. Students can also get practical advice about finding and getting through college applications as they build friendships with their mentors.

"We pair up mentors with students who often request to be part of the program. The mentors commit to one school year and are trained to promote a sense of belonging and helping others. They're not tutors, they are for extra support," she said.

Emily Seims, site coordinator at Skyview, said mentors encourage students to build on their strengths and positive characteristics.

"We want to let them know that we can all be heroes, and to realize their capabilities. Each one of us can do something good and community service is very important and very rewarding. Kids see that someone cares enough to work on a lasting relationship. It gives them sense of someone caring," Seims said.

There are currently 17 students and six adults in the program. Most helped pack Salvation Army boxes Tuesday.

"We thought this would be a great activity for everyone. The kids have stepped out of their comfort zones to do this."

Scott Earlsey, one of the original three mentors, said the program has helped kids realize they are a part of something larger.

"In the beginning, I thought I wasn't really cut out for it because some of the students I was paired with quit the program. Then in the second semester of the first year I really connected with a student. For me, it's being faithful to the process. You don't give up on them and continue to be there," he said.

"I do this because I enjoy encouraging young people and helping them identify their gifts. They are our future. I'm in the latter portion of my life, and they are the future. Regardless of how they do in school, society needs them to be engaged."

Pothast said this is something she really believes in and it is important that kids know the benefits.

"This is something that is important to do, and we can always do better," she said.

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