Class Project Creates Life-Altering Experience
The first thing eighth-grader Spencer did when he met Colby mentors Mark Nelson ’13 and Jake Kramer ’13 was look both in the eye and firmly shake their hands. “And we thought—‘Ryan must have passed that on to him.’” Nelson said.
Ryan Conlon ’10, Spencer’s previous mentor, was about to graduate when he introduced baseball teammates Nelson and Kramer to young Spencer. Now Nelson and Kramer have mentored Spencer for a year and a half as part of the Colby Cares About Kids (CCAK) program, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
In that time CCAK’s success has been praised by state officials and emulated by colleges statewide. Bowdoin, the University of Maine, and the University of New England are among six institutions that started similar mentoring programs in the state’s College Community Mentoring Project, which closely follows CCAK principles.
About 400 Colby students serve as mentors in area schools, giving children a consistent adult presence and, in many cases, a friend.
Lori Morin, the Goldfarb Center’s CCAK coordinator, attributes the program’s success to the commitment of Colby’s volunteer mentors. “It caught me off-guard how dedicated these mentors are,” Morin said. “I’ve been amazed at how much they put in—far beyond what we ask of them. They’re a real impact on kids.”
From 100 mentors at two sites 10 years ago, CCAK has grown to 400 mentors currently working in 18 locations. This year Morin trained the largest group of mentors to date.
For Nelson and Kramer involvement with CCAK has meant weekly trips to nearby Lawrence Junior High to see Spencer. They’ve seen signs of his growing social skills and an increased interest in football and baseball. Spencer has become poised and mature, they say.
On most days Kramer and Nelson help Spencer with homework, play a game with him, or hit the gym together. “I think a lot of times the one-on-one can be pretty helpful, because he might not get enough of that,” Nelson said. “You see a little more confidence in him now.”
Kramer added that CCAK mentoring brings a chance to pass on life skills to a younger person. “Every time you’re leaving the school … you have a great feeling that you’re making an impact on somebody’s life and you’re helping them,” Kramer said. “It’s awesome to see him smile and say that he’s looking forward to seeing you the next time.”
The program began with Rachel Tobie ’04, who suggested mentoring for a research project in the Bursting the Bubble class taught by Professor of English Peter Harris. The project grew into CCAK, which aimed to provide a consistent adult presence in the lives of Waterville area children who may need additional support. “There’s a clear commitment. It offers students … a chance to get off the hill. It’s a gratifying commitment,” said Harris, who has been on the board of CCAK from the start.
Another Colby student, Emily Shankle ’13, has mentored Brianna, now a Winslow Junior High sixth grader, for the past two years. Shankle has become a part of Brianna’s inner circle of friends, she says, from group activities and games she plays with Brianna and her friends at the Alfond Youth Center. “The stable relationship is one of the most important things we give these children,” Shankle said. “Whenever Brianna and I sit down at a table, we’re immediately surrounded by other kids in her group. We’re very popular because all the kids want a mentor, and so, since I’m there, they want to share me with her.”
James Hubbard ’12 has worked with sixth grader Chris for four years. Hubbard helped Chris transition through middle school and, recently, pursue his passion for playing football. “That’s all he talks about now,” Hubbard said with a laugh. “He’s grown up, both physically and mentally. But at the same time, I think we both have—together.”