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Garry Sronce and his mentee, Shymein move around a lot! Just check out the ol’ log book. 47 miles hiking and an impressive 83 miles biking various trails. That’s 130 miles in 4 years.
83 miles is tough on one’s bike. Recently Garry and Shyein visited The ReCYCLEry NC in Carrboro. Dave, a ReCYCLEry volunteer, and Shymein looked over dozens of bikes until Shymein found “the one” that would replace his old 1 speed green bike. The new one would be a shiny silver, 21 speed.
In one afternoon, Shymein became a bike mechanic. He and Dave replaced brake cables, fixed the derailer, replaced the handle grips, seat and tire tube. They even trued up a tire rim that was not perfectly round. Next, they checked the gears to make sure they were working, then cleaned it up. And just like that, Shymein was the proud owner of a new bike.
When asked if this was the highlight of the match, Garry said “I learned a lot. I totally enjoyed our Saturday outing. Now Shymein thinks he is an expert bike mechanic.” Garry reflected on the many activities he and Shymein participated in. “My greatest moment of joy with Shymein was when he said that he never knew how to skip rocks until he met me. It brought back so many fond memories of raising my two sons.”
The ReCYCLEry NC is a non-profit located in Carrboro, North Carolina that teaches bicycle repair and maintenance and allows community members to earn their own bikes.
Shirille Lee, the Student Support Specialist for Youth FIRST for Chatham Communities In Schools, joined the CIS team as a staff member in 1998. But long before that, she was a volunteer mentor and board member. Her full-time service to CIS has included being the Governor’s One-on-One mentoring coordinator and Volunteer and Youth Services coordinator. She brings infectious enthusiasm the job and says she is guided each day by a favorite quote: “To the world you may be one person; but to one person you may be the world.”
In 2018, Lee initiated a new program at CIS, “Mentoring Plus,” where she began working more directly with schools to provide mentoring, lunch buddies and other kinds of supports for students. It’s funded by the United Way of Chatham County, Chatham County government and generous individual sponsors.
With Youth FIRST (Finding Integrated Resources & Supports Together), Lee coordinates individual, case-managed intervention services to reach referred students in Chatham County. In the past year she served 68 youth across 11 schools, with a concentration of services at three schools: Pittsboro Elementary School, Horton Middle School and Siler City Elementary. Lee works with each student to complete a needs assessment and a student support plan identifying an attendance, behavior or coursework goal. The students have monthly check-ins, and parents are encouraged to be more engaged with their child’s teacher and school. This week, the News + Record spoke with Lee about her role and the mentoring program.
What drew you to this work?
I believe we all have gifts. At one time I was at a crossroad in my life and thought I wanted to do something different, explore another gift (I had been youth leader at my church for over a decade). I didn’t really know what I was looking for but when I read an article in The Chatham News about mentoring, I signed up before I knew what I was doing. I later followed up that decision with signing up to be a foster parent for Chatham County Department of Social Services. I thought I was on a different path, but it lead me right back to working with children, just in a different capacity.
Working for CIS is the dream job!!! It’s like having your cake and eating it too!
How would you describe what mentoring is to someone who may not know what it is?
Mentoring is all about opportunity and exposure.
As a mentor you have the opportunity to expose youth to positive things in their community, include them in things they may not get a chance to explore for many reasons. It’s hard to prepare a meal or read a book together for a single parent who works 12-16 hours a day or go to the planetarium or the zoo when you’re struggling to make ends meet. A mentor can step in and provide those experiences. Surprisingly some of the favorite activities for mentees were grocery shopping, cooking a meal and sitting down together to eat that meal, working in the garden or flower bed, enjoying the peace and quiet.
It’s not about money and the things a mentor could buy, but the time spent together. Mentoring is about sharing your story. Sometimes we (adults and youth) just focus on the end results and never share what it took to reach the goal. Our youth need to hear the story and know that they can persevere and achieve.
Certainly, mentoring is about giving, but it’s also about receiving. It’s an amazing feeling to know that you are making/have made a difference in a person’s life. You learn so much from your mentee about resilience and endurance. You also learn a lot about yourself and a sense of gratitude for the informal mentors that influence you.
How does mentoring benefit a young person?
Mentoring provides additional support for a youth. Whether academic, recreational or emotional support, a mentor can be there to help meet the need. Mentoring gives a young person the opportunity to experience new things that could have life changing effects. A trip to the ballet or museum to expose a creative, artistic side or helping in a garden and cooking a meal together, exposing an interest in culinary arts. The possibilities are endless.
How do you find volunteers, what is the process for an applicant, what kind of training and supervision is offered?
Finding volunteers can be challenging. We make posts, write articles, do presentations at churches and civic meetings/events, post flyers and information in neighborhood newsletters/e-letters, but it’s mostly word of mouth from current and former mentors.
How do parents feel about their child having a mentor? How do you work with parents of mentees?
This program is voluntary, so parents make the decision to allow their child to participate. Most parents recognize the possibilities of what mentoring can offer. I work with parents to make sure all their questions are answers. Allowing a stranger to leave with your child can be difficult, so just helping parents to process those feelings. When needs are identified, helping parents find resources and encouraging parents to build a relationship with the schools if one is not established are just a few of the things when working with parents.
How do you decide which kids get mentors since there is a limited number of volunteers available?
The decision can be difficult, but we look at location. We try to match within a 10-12 mile radius, we look at interest — mentor and youth, parent support — whether parent is really supportive of match, whether youth is open to the match and possibly trying new things. We look at goals — what the youth, parent and mentor hope to accomplish to see if it’s compatible. We look at temperament as well as energy levels for compatibility.
What does mentoring look like? What does it consist of?
Minimum requirement of four hours per month for one year. Don’t try to create time for mentoring, but include mentee in things you are already doing — gardening, cooking, hiking/walking, grocery shopping. Other activities are fun too, but it’s about the time spent together.
If you’re interested in hearing more about volunteer opportunities, contact Shirille at firstname.lastname@example.org
See and read about what’s been happening and what’s on the horizon for 2018!
CIS CC had a wonderful Youth Garden workday on Sunday, June 4th, installing plumbing for the cistern that will help us harvest rainwater off of the roof of an adjoining bulding.
Participating members of the Chatham Community Church included Rick McDonald, Jim Bridgeman, Rachel and John Carpenter, Gary Plontak, and Brian Spiller. CIS board member and mentor Johnny Davis helped with the installation and other garden related tasks.
Special thanks go to Mitch Woodard, NC Cooperative Extension’s Area Specialized Agent of Watersheds and Water Quality who is providing technical support and time with the actual installation. According to Woodward, “Stormwater runoff from building and home rooftops, roads, landscapes, and parking lots is a major source of water pollution in NC. This source grows [daily] because 275 new residents move to NC everyday! To control stormwater runoff practices are being installed across the state to SLOW the water down, SPREAD it out, and SOAK it in.
CIS CC’s innovative Rain Water Harvesting System will work to:
- Capture storm runoff from one-half of a 7,000 sq. ft. rooftop (3,500 sq. ft.)
- Collect 2,100 gallons of water.
- Irrigate the Youth Garden area.
In one year’s time the system has the capability of capturing and soaking in over 100,000 gallons of water.
If you were to pay the annual volume of water captured as a city water utility it would have a annual monetary value of approximately $1,000.00.
CIS CC appreciates the help of this group and looks forward to continuing this partnership. The CIS CC Youth Garden serves as a community service and restitution work site for youth and provides community members with fresh produce, free of charge.
If you are interested in volunteering with the CIS CC please let us know. You CAN make a difference in the lives of Chatham County youth!
Triangle Community Foundation, United Way of Chatham County and Chatham County Government announce the winner of their second grant focused on a collaborative approach to a major challenge in Chatham County. This year the grant focused on collaborative approaches to family stability.
The winning project, Learning Institute/Instituto de Aprendizaje, involves two nonprofits, Communities in Schools of Chatham County (CIS CC) and the Chatham County Literacy Council (CCLC). The project will receive $30,000 for 2017-18 to pioneer in-depth services for 20 families and 30 Siler City students in grades K-8 who are considered at risk for school failure.
“We are all so excited about funding a project that will allow two established nonprofits to work in tandem to serve the entire family, especially in a part of the county where this is greatly needed,” said Gina Andersen, Community Programs Officer, Triangle Community Foundation. “They will be demonstrating collaboration that will no doubt lead to other joint efforts.”
CIS CC and CCLC staff will coordinate The Institute, which will offer adult literacy programs, school events, guided exploration of community resources, access to healthy foods via CIS CC’s Youth Community Garden, and other positive multigenerational activities. Using this model, parents will be able to improve their own personal literacy skills and develop relationships needed to support children’s learning and the family’s stability. Many of the participating families likely will not be fluent in English.
The applicants noted several vital reasons why such “wrap-around” family services are needed in the Siler City area. Just a few include: limited education and social isolation of low-income parents; lower reading abilities and education levels than other parts of the county; a higher percentage of students (90%) at Chatham Middle School and Virginia Cross Elementary who qualify for free and reduced price meals; and 25% of Virginia Cross students who qualify for federal homeless services benefits.
“The Learning Institute will take aim at putting together all the pieces that go into stabilizing families, developing emotionally strong and healthy children, and preparing them to be active, positive members of the community,” said County Manager Renee Paschal.
United Way Executive Director Dina Reynolds added, “The model of collaboration outlined in this project is truly multi-dimensional and could be a great path for other nonprofits to consider in the future. The project also includes some potentially powerful measurable outcomes. We look forward to seeing where the Learning Institute leads us.”
CIS CC (formerly Chatham County Together!) has been around since 1989. It was primarily focused on delinquency prevention services for at risk-youth ages 6-18 referred by schools, social services, courts, parents and other agencies. When it became an affiliate of the national Communities in Schools program in 2014, the nonprofit began to also offer on-site services at Chatham Middle School and Virginia Cross Elementary.
Kim Caraganis, executive director of CIS CC, said, “Typically we focus our efforts on the youth we serve, with the exception for Family Advocacy program which focuses on families and youth referred through Juvenile Services. The Learning Institute will allow us to scale up our work with whole families in a way that benefits students being served through our CIS CC school model programs. Also, throughout this new effort, we will be learning so much from our families about barriers to their participation and how to overcome them.”
The Chatham County Literacy Council (CCLC) helps adults, living or working in Chatham County acquire the literacy and educational skills they need to function successfully in society. This includes adult basic education, high school equivalency preparation and classes for people to become more fluent in English. They also help prepare people to take the US Citizenship test and have recently started a program to teach “workforce soft skills, which includes communications, teamwork, networking, problem solving, enthusiasm and professionalism.”
The director of CCLC, Vicki Newell, said, “Working with CIS seems like a natural fit for both of us. This grant will allow CIS and Chatham Literacy the opportunity to provide services in a completely new and different way. This is truly a holistic approach to serving the entire family.”
All three grant sponsors provided $10,000 to support the $30,000 grant, which is the second such grant offered. A panel of volunteers from the three agencies came together to review applications before selecting the Learning Institute.