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Mentoring Stories

By Kay Wolfkill

We spoke with one RSVP Volunteer who was recently highlighted as an Impact Story with Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of North Central Iowa. Jack Gannett is a Reading Coach at Lincoln Intermediate School in Mason City, one of 32 coaches serving five schools as mentors in the RSVP program.

This year marks Jack's second year as a mentor. He enjoys helping the children he coaches with reading and vocabulary, and appreciates getting to know the kids in the program. When asked what inspired him to be a mentor he names an old friend who encouraged Jack to become a mentor because working with the children was always the high point of his week. Jack had been pen pals with children before and thought that being a Reading Coach would be much better. He was right!

Jack says that working with children in the program really is the high point of his week, "Despite being at 8 a.m. this year," he joked. He has two kids he works with for the school year, mentoring them one day a week for two semesters. While he only spends a half hour a week with the mentees Jack always tries to make sure each mentee feels a sense of accomplishment. At the beginning of the school year he asks his mentees what goals they have that they want to accomplish during their time together. He then checks with them periodically to make sure they are feeling accomplished. Each student has different goals, but Jack enjoys doing this nonetheless. Jack also challenges his mentees to become lifelong readers. He reminds his mentees that instead of just reading words off the page, it is also important to try and figure out what the author is trying to say in the stories they read together. He encourages his students to think deeper and develop a dialogue with their readings.

Jack shared a story of a mentee from Columbia who he got to know. This mentee played goalie, and told Jack a story of driving to Chicago with his dad to watch the Columbian Soccer team. Jack worked with this mentee for the school year and felt like they made a lot of progress together. He also told me of a recent interaction with a mentee who was not sure how to navigate the school library. Jack took this mentee to the library and teamed up with the school librarian to teach them now to find a book. These are just a few of the great things Jack had done!

When asked what he likes most about being a mentor, Jack told us that he enjoys being a person that children can work with when their teachers might not have the time or ability to provide individual attention. He also feels like his presence benefits mentees because it provides them with affirmation, encouragement and well deserved praise. He shares that he has learned a lot too; like how eager the kids are to learn and gain knowledge. Jack shared another story with us about a mentee who had really struggled with a passage in the book they were reading. When the passage appeared later in the book his mentee read it flawlessly. Jack was so excited and proud of his mentee that he clapped!

Jack shared his perspective that mentees participate in the program and are there because they want to be. To him, a good mentor is someone who will take the time to make an impact and be clear with the kids about what they are working on together and why. His advice to people who are considering becoming a mentor is, "Get started."