9/26/2013 3:57:00 PM Fairview Lakes - Middle School mentor program needs you to get involved
As the new school year enters into its second month, Fairview Lakes Medical Center’s “Friends Make A Difference” program marks the 15th year of providing students with an adult mentor. The mission of Friends Make a Difference is to encourage young people to recognize and develop their full potential through trusting and supportive relationships with caring adults from the community. The program got its start about the same time Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming was built in 1998. Kathy Bystrom, assistant manager for Fairview Lakes Community Health Outreach, is program coordinator.
“When the medical center opened in 1998, our staff wanted a way to connect with the community; conveniently, the Wyoming Elementary School was right next door,” says Bystrom, and the initial collaboration began. As the staff began to see how their relationships with the students helped improve the kids’ attendance, self-esteem, behavior and academics scores, the program was named, “Friends Make A Difference,” and the scope expanded to provide personalized guidance for each student and to include adult volunteers from the community as mentors. “The program is a creative, upstream approach to help kids stay healthy, rather than trying to correct things once they go wrong,” says Bystrom.
Friends Make A Difference now operates in 15 schools in the Forest Lake, Chisago Lakes and North Branch school districts. About 200 mentors comprised of Fairview staff, community members and volunteers from several local businesses and organizations. More than 1,000 students have participated since the program began. Mentors are asked to meet with their students once or twice a month during the student’s lunch hour.
Bystrom explains that the minimal time requirement makes it easier to recruit mentors for more students. The mentors’ primary responsibility is to be a positive role model, but mentors are also champions, cheerleaders, advocates and friends. “The most effective mentors possess a desire to make a difference and a willingness to listen and provide guidance without judgment,” says Bystrom. Another teacher said, “The program is one of the few places that some students feel unconditionally cared about. Another teacher says, “I wish we had enough mentors for every student in the building.” A 2013 survey validates the importance of the program: • 77 percent of students said they feel more adults care about them because of the program
• 66 percent said they are able to better express their feelings • 60 percent said their attitude toward school is better • 84 percent of parents with students in the program said their children experienced increased self-esteem because of their mentoring relationship.
Additionally, the program was acknowledged by the Minnesota Hospital Association as an innovative community health improvement strategy, and has received financial support from the Greater Twin Cities United Way in recognition of its success. This past spring, 10 students graduated from Forest Lake and Chisago Lakes Area High Schools who had been with their mentors since elementary school or junior high. Some mentors were seated in the audience at the graduation ceremony or in attendance at their graduation open houses. At moments like that, Bystrom says, “The positive return on investment is clear.” Mentors wanted This year Friends Makes A Difference hopes to recruit 45 new mentors. Mentors should relate well to young people, and be available to meet with their student for one or two lunch hours a month for at least one full year. If you are interested in mentoring, call Kathy at 651-257-8439 or email her firstname.lastname@example.org.