By Lesley Snyder
Take it from an eighth-grader: you can never have too many snacks. When asked what she’ll miss most after graduating from Shelburne Community School (SCS), Gabrielle Booth is quick to respond: “Food!” she quips. That’s because every Wednesday for the past three years, Gabrielle and music teacher Diana Burritt have spent an hour eating, talking, and playing music together thanks to the Connecting Youth Mentoring Program (CY). A guitar, transformed into artwork, hangs prominently outside of Diana’s SCS classroom thanks to Gabrielle and Diana’s handiwork. Restrung with yarn and adorned with the words “Welcome to the Music Room,” the sign exemplifies Gabrielle’s sparkly personality and the supportive connections formed through the mentoring program.
The close of the school year marks the graduation of eighth-grade participants from CY. Founded in 1990, CY works to pair middle school youth with trained volunteers, meeting on campus at the same hour once a week. Pairs are then free to use this hour for activities of their choosing: from making art to practicing music – or even just talking. Community member Betty Miles has sat down with eighth-grader Savannah Price at SCS nearly every week for the past seven years. They were first matched through the Everybody Wins! (EW!) literacy program. “I thought it was a great program,” Betty explains “and Savannah got to be such a good reader.” Their bond grew past the pages of EW! and Betty decided to accompany Savannah into CY. Every Tuesday, they spend their mentoring hour in conversation – usually over a bowl of popcorn, Savannah’s favorite. “I like hearing about all the things she does,” Betty says.
As Savannah prepares to transition from SCS to high school, she also readies to say goodbye to Betty’s weekly company. “I’ll miss talking to her,” Savannah admits, grinning at Betty from across the table. They both wholeheartedly endorse the program. As for why she thinks other kids should get involved in CY, Savannah stresses, “It’s a lot of fun.” It is apparent that Savannah and Betty appreciate each other’s company and benefit from the uninterrupted hour of communication. In a nod to Savannah and the successfulness of the program, Betty beams and confides, “It has been so pleasant to get to know each other the way that we have.”
While the mentoring area at SCS is chock-full of crafts and snacks, mentor-mentee pairs are encouraged to venture beyond the designated meeting room. Diana and Gabrielle jump from Diana’s classroom to the grassy outdoors to the creemee stand. They believe that what has made their pairing so successful is their mutual interest in music and a preference for busy hands. There is no argument that their mentoring sessions are propelled by productivity; Gabrielle and Diana have spent many meetings repairing, assembling, and playing a diverse array of instruments. From creating a larger-than-life wooden xylophone to making a slit drum with a block of wood and a jigsaw, Gabrielle has had the opportunity to explore her creative interests in music thanks to the CY program and Diana’s donation of her time and expertise.
But Gabrielle isn’t the only one benefitting from the program. Her upbeat personality and hands-on creativity revive Diana during chaotic school hours. “She has a way of calming me down on those frantic days,” Diana says. And as for the weekly commitment, Diana is grateful for it: “Wednesdays [as a meeting time] are great. It gets me away from the computer and lesson plans.” While they have been mentor-mentee pairs for three years, they have known each other for nine. As Gabrielle’s sights are set on high school, Diana and Gabrielle must also conclude their time together in CY. Both are grateful for the opportunity to create connections through the mentoring program and encourage others to participate. “Everybody can use a break for an hour,” Diana notes.
These long-running mentoring pairs have earned recognition. Many mentor applicants are unable to make the commitment to volunteering their time for the same hour every week, and, as Betty points out, the program cannot be successful without dedication from the kids as well. “The students have to want to be there,” Betty explains. As the program aspires to raise its student participation for the next school year, CY is eager to welcome new mentor volunteers. Not only is Connecting Youth Mentoring available to Shelburne middle-schoolers, the program also reaches Charlotte, Hinesburg, and Williston. For more information, please contact Christine Lloyd-Newberry, Program Director at (802) 383-1230 or visit www.seewhy.info.