A popular proverb, “It takes a village to raise to child,” could describe the partnership between the organization Kids Hope USA, the Garrison Chaplain’s Office and Colonel Johnston Elementary School. Kids Hope USA is a national program that builds church-school partnerships to mentor at-risk children.
Fort Huachuca was the first military installation to work with Kids Hope USA and kicks off its second year of the mentorship program this year. Partnership organizers are currently seeking volunteers and prayer partners from all post congregations. Those looking to mentor a child are asked to commit 32 hours during the 2013-14 school year.
“It’s not a huge time commitment; it can be a lot of positive influence and outcome for a relatively small amount of time invested,” said Fort Huachuca Chaplain, (Lt. Col.) Samuel “Ken” Godfrey.
The program works around the policy of one – one child, one hour, one church, one school at a time – through one-on-one mentoring relationships. The hour-long sessions currently take place at Johnston School. According to Araceli Sierra-Mandy, Kids Hope USA director for Fort Huachuca, the mentor helps the child acquire basic academic skills, but it is just as important that the child has fun during the hour and feels loved and valued.
“It’s very satisfying to know that you are planting a positive presence for the future of this child; you’re making a difference in that child,” Sierra-Mandy said. “For me it’s been rewarding to know that you’re giving a child that extra chance to have that one-on-one [time].”
Ida Pedrego, Johnston School guidance counselor, sees the program having a positive influence on the students involved. She feels the mentored children show an improved attitude and self-esteem which helps them make good decisions both in school and at home.
“A child’s attitude has a lot to do with how they excel in school,” Pedrego said. “[Children] don’t come to school to be yelled at; they come to learn and have fun.”
She added that mentors can be role models who reinforce the lessons, such as respect, taught during the day at school. Pedrego feels mannerisms the child picks up from the mentor also matter.
During the first month of school, Pedrego, along with other faculty members, observe and evaluate the students who could benefit from some extra one-on-one time. However, parents also have the option to request a mentor for their child.
The other cornerstone of this program, Protestant and Catholic worshipping congregations from Main Post Chapel, Kino Chapel and Prosser Chapel, helps encourage prospective mentors and seeks out a prayer partner, someone within the mentor’s congregation, who looks out for that mentor and child. This individual usually calls the mentor once a week to get feedback on how the sessions are going and can pray for anything the mentor requests.
“[The prayer partner] supports not only the child through prayer but provides encouragement and accountability to the mentor,” Sierra-Mandy said.
For Godfrey, this partnership carries on the legacy of Col. Roger Sangvic, former acting commander of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence and Fort Huachuca, and Chaplain (Col.) Kenneth Revell, former Fort Huachuca chaplain. Both men advocate encouraging and mentoring children.
“[The program] gives people an opportunity to serve, and it reminds congregations of our interest and connection with all of our military children on post through our schools,” Godfrey said.
Before any of the sessions begin, mentors must go through three hours of training provided by Sierra-Mandy, using comprehensive materials from the Kids Hope USA National Office, and also attend an orientation session at the school. Sierra-Mandy also provides ongoing supervision and support.
All mentors are screened using a process that includes an application and criminal history check. Mentors must also submit to screening requirements at the school. As for the Christian base of Kids Hope USA, mentors are living out their faith commitment to love and serve.
Sierra-Mandy stressed above all else that the adults who volunteer must remain committed through the duration of the school year because the child is counting on them. She stressed for some children, this hour means the world to them.
“[Mentors] don’t need to have an education degree; although they do receive some program training, they don’t have to be an expert in early childhood education. What [Kids Hope USA is] looking for is someone who can be a consistent presence in the child’s life through the mentoring program,” Godfrey said.
For more information on becoming a mentor, contact the installation chaplain’s office at 533.4748, or Sierra-Mandy at 456.6320 or firstname.lastname@example.org.