• Photo by Thomas Wallner
    Graham Fire Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Jim Don Laurent sounds the siren for mentors and their mentees at the Virginia’s House annual End of the Year Mentor Party at the Rock on April 25. The Graham Police and Fire Department were special guests at the event and spent time showing the students around their vehicles.
  • Photo by Thomas Wallner
    Officer Austin Lawrence of the Graham Police Department plays football with kids involved the in the Virginia’s House Mentor program at the annual End of the Year Mentor Party at the Rock on April 25. The Graham Police and Graham Fire Departments were special guests at the event which was planned for the mentors to celebrate the end of the school year with their mentees.

Mentor program benefits Graham’s children

“People go in there thinking that they need to do this because they have time and they feel like that it’s a need and they know it is. They end up as mentor, and honestly, I have never spoken with any mentor, even mentors that don’t do it anymore, retired mentors that did it years ago, and every single mentor is blessed by what they are doing. They are blessed more than they even realize that they ever would be.” - GISD Liaison for Virginia's House Mentor Program Kelly Riddle

One of the many services provided by Virginia’s House in Graham, a family resource center, is that of a volunteer-based mentor program for students in first through eighth grades.

The mentor program has been around in Young County since 1992, and since then mentors have volunteered to spend one class period per week with a child at their school campus at Graham Independent School District, Breckenridge ISD or Albany ISD.

“There was a study being done at the same time that the children’s advocacy center was being considered, so what that tells me is the seed was planted as early as the plans to have this non-profit come to life,” Director Susie Clack said. “Next year we will celebrate 25 years, so I feel safe to say that it’s as old as we are.”

According to Clack, there are 70 Child Advocacy Centers in Texas, and Virginia’s House is one of eight organizations that is an umbrella organization, which means it encompasses multiple programs under one roof.

“We have multiple programs where other CACs they are a standalone, and we are the only CAC in Texas that has the mentoring program as a program under our roof,” Clack said.

The students who are involved with the program are often not associated with the Child Advocacy, Victims Advocacy or CASA programs involved with Virginia’s House, according to Clack. The students are referred to by teachers at their schools, and after they are chosen, Virginia’s House works to pair up a compatible mentor with a student, referred to as a mentee.

“We communicate with the principals and counselors, and they help us communicate with the teachers of the students who are involved,” said Virginia’s House Child Resource Manager Sarah Neudorf.

Students are chosen based on many factors, and the mentor is supplied to the student as a crucial role in supporting them by being a positive and encouraging adult in their lives. In some cases, the parents of the student are not able to spend enough time with their child, so the child is assigned a mentor to help.  

“You can’t describe it,” said Kelly Riddle, the GISD liaison for the mentor program. “People go in there thinking that they need to do this because they have time and they feel like that it’s a need and they know it is. They end up as mentor, and honestly, I have never spoken with any mentor, even mentors that don’t do it anymore, retired mentors that did it years ago, and every single mentor is blessed by what they are doing. They are blessed more than they even realize that they ever would be.”

Riddle who is a former board member of Virginia’s House and currently serves as the liaison between Graham ISD and the organization said the program could not work if not for the efforts put forth by Graham ISD.

“That’s the cool thing about Graham ISD; to me it so neat that they embrace the fact that Virginia’s House provides the background checks, the interviews with the mentors, the caring of the kids after they get the referral from the school, but each counselor at each school and each teacher at each school is responsible for making the referral,” she said. “It’s really, really neat how the superintendent down to the principal, to the council and to the teachers on these campuses, Crestview, Woodland and the junior high, work together with Virginia’s House and they don’t mind Virginia’s House, kind of, stepping in to help with it.”

Riddle has volunteered the last two years to provide for the program and collaboration with the school, which the director believes is due to the fact that she has understood the value in the program for the community.

“Kelly has been a past board member and she is not even a current board member but she is a supporter of Virginia’s House, so the last two she has given her time to be what we call a board liaison, to be the face of Virginia’s House and the mentor program at the Graham schools along with our staff who is like the coordinating person internally at Virginia’s House,” Clack said. “Who would do that, you know, how many people would be so giving of their time, and I think it’s just because she sees the value.”

The program has grown for the last two years in Graham, The program currently has 35 mentors in Graham, 35 in Breckenridge and 30 in Albany.

“Two years ago as far as participation, we dropped a bit, but that’s when we got back together as a board and decided that we needed to focus on this program because it was not one we wanted to lose our footing,” Clack said. “That’s when Kelly came forward for Graham ISD and for Stevens County Kathy Griffith, and they said they would do whatever they could to help.”

The program charges nothing for the service for the school district, and that includes the coordination of the mentor volunteers or any events put together by Virginia’s House for the mentor program. According to Clack, one major role of the schools and Virginia’s House is to be aware of the needs for the students.

“What we want to do is be aware of the need, no matter really what grade it is, but right now we can always be flexible enough if the need is in a lower grade than we are currently serving or in a high grade,” she said. “We just are trying to be diligent in looking at the data, you know, the need of all the grades and that’s why we have to have a quarterly or annual review time with the administrators just to make sure we are not falling through the cracks.”

According to Riddle, after a mentor’s student goes into high school, they often no longer take them lunch and go to school to see them, but they still are around in their lives. The mentors will often go to the student’s games or other extracurricular activities and some that still have contact with the students into college.  

“The kids are very, very appreciative of their mentor and look forward to them coming on all the campuses. It means a tremendous amount to these kids to know that they have someone outside of their home, outside of school, outside of their church, just someone that takes time once a week to come to the school and see them and bring them lunch or throw the football with them, or fly a kite with them,” Riddle said. “It really makes them feel good and they are the kids that need it.”

Virginia’s House has five kids on the waiting list for the mentor program. To sign up to be a mentor in the program, visit Virginia’s House in Graham to receive an application or fill out an application online at their website http://www.virginiashousetx.org/.

“We never have too many volunteers we can always find a place for you to volunteer and for a volunteer to volunteer,” Clack said.

The Graham Leader

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