Local Mentoring Program Marks Big Milestone.
It’s called the Opportunity Gap, the stark discrepancy that exists between low-income students and their upper-income peers when it comes to accessing extracurricular opportunities. And Decatur Education Foundation is celebrating an exciting milestone in its effort to bridge that gap: It’s been almost one year since the nonprofit launched its Opportunity Partnership (OP) Mentoring Program that matches third graders with adult volunteers who can help open their eyes to new learning experiences.
OP started last November when the first cohort of seven eager third graders from the Decatur Housing Authority were paired with seven equally eager adult community members. After more than a year of planning, Meagan Berardi, DEF’s Director of Community Engagement, was on-hand that night. She remembers the positive energy, “There’s always a little uncertainty when launching a new program,” she said. “But seeing the enthusiasm and joy on everyone’s faces and the warm hugs from all of the kids’ parents confirmed that we were establishing some truly meaningful connections.”
The pairs have since met regularly to play sports, do homework or crafts, or just talk. OP mentor and Decatur resident Mike Killeen tries to see his mentee, eight-year-old Hamza, weekly. They play basketball, work on homework, and last spring they even met up with another mentor pair to catch an Atlanta Hawks game – Hamza’s first!
Erin Guerrieri, a former special education teacher with Atlanta Public Schools, signed up to be a mentor because she was looking for an opportunity to work with children in a teaching capacity. She mentors Micayla, and the two have enjoyed walking through Decatur, visiting the bookstore and talking about school and life.
She said, “Micayla is such a wonderful girl with a supportive family. I think our time together has given her a little extra boost of confidence – just knowing that another adult is cheering her on.”
DEF works with local businesses like ColorWheel and Little Shop of Stories to coordinate group activities for the mentor pairs. Decatur Makers sponsored a group project in which the mentees and their mentors constructed kites. After testing out her newly constructed kite, Micayla exclaimed, “This was the best day!” When Guerrieri reminded her that she made that same declaration the previous week, Micayla responded, “Pretty much every day we get to spend with our mentors is a great day.”
The OP participants have found an added bonus to the program. Guerrieri explains, “The Opportunity Partnership is so much more than just connecting kids with opportunities – it’s connecting us as a community, and that’s the real impact.”
With such a positive response from participating families, DEF expects more kids to enroll, which means increased need for local adult mentors. Do you want to be a part of an initiative that impacts a local student and unites our community?
For more information about the OP mentoring program and the other ways DEF is helping Decatur kids, visit www.decatureducationfoundation.org/mentoring.
by Erin Murphy