By Bill Stanczykiewicz
Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
While managing local utility services, Mike Martin found a new way to energize his community, and students are starting to benefit.
Martin, in his role as president of the Lebanon Kiwanis Club, recruited numerous partners to create a new mentoring initiative in the local public school district. Martin persuaded, encouraged and cajoled the mayor, the school superintendent, a hospital CEO, the local United Way, the community foundation and several faith-based organizations to work together on the design of the mentoring program, the recruitment of volunteers and the delivery of mentors through the Boys and Girls Club.
In the program’s second year, 46 students now are being mentored, with 25 more scheduled to start in the fall.
“What a generous human being,” said Kelly Sollman, principal of Hattie B. Stokes Elementary School as she described Martin’s unique community leadership. “He has gone out of his way to make a difference, especially in the life of the child he is mentoring.”
Martin is matched with a 9-year-old student whose father recently died. The general manager of Lebanon Utilities, Martin epitomizes Hoosier homespun hospitality and is comfortable in civic meetings as well as with public presentations. Yet Martin admitted he feared meeting with his mentee until the day they discovered a mutual interest: the Cincinnati Reds.
“The last time I saw my dad alive I took him to a Reds game,” Martin recalled. “So I took this young man to a Reds game. He got his picture taken with Mr. Red (the team mascot), and I carry that picture with me every day because from that point forward we’ve developed a very special relationship.”
The mentoring relationship has grown from simple to serious as Martin now helps the student set, achieve and celebrate goals. “This young man has gained so much confidence,” Martin said. “During a banquet held by the mayor, this young man stood up and confidently presented his list of goals to about a hundred people.
“Warren Buffet ain’t got enough money to pay for what that’s worth.”
Principal Sollman confirmed that the boy had struggled — academically and with his behavior — after his father died. “So many of our kids, including this child, have so much emotional baggage, and they don’t know how to deal with it,” she lamented.
The principal’s passion for children is revealed in the quick cadence of her clear and articulate speaking style. But as she described the significant impact of mentoring on this struggling student, Sollman paused and choked back tears before resuming in a halting pace, “He now is a leader in the classroom … a friend to all of the students … and he goes out of his way to help others.”
Sollman added, “His grades have improved as he’s worked hard academically … and he now is a happy little boy.”
Martin’s impressive impact through mentoring is an anecdote supported by research. Students who are mentored, even one hour a week throughout the school year, tend to improve their grades, their behavior and their life outcomes.
Martin’s inspiring involvement with a broad range of community partners reveals how everyday citizens can make a difference and how the public, private and nonprofit sectors can collaborate on behalf of academic achievement and healthy youth development.
“Educators today are faced with a complex scenario that schools did not face 30 years ago, so we no longer can teach kids in school in isolation,” said Lebanon Community Schools Superintendent Bob Taylor. “It’s imperative that we reach out to community organizations and that all of us work together to educate children.”
Including mentors. “Mentors have become full partners with our teachers,” Taylor continued. “Mentoring has become ingrained in the total education of the child, not just with academics but also with character and behavior development.”
Mayor Huck Lewis remains optimistic that those gains will have a wide-ranging and long-term impact on the quality of life in Lebanon. “For the future of Lebanon, mentoring is the way to go,” Lewis stated. “My personal goal is to see one of these kids sitting in my chair someday.”
January is National Mentoring Month. Opportunities for volunteers, as well as employers looking to partner with schools and mentoring organizations, exist across Indiana. To discover mentoring possibilities in your area, go to www.abetterhour.org .
Bill Stanczykiewicz is president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. He can be reached at email@example.com.