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Mentor Duluth pairs kids and volunteers

DCN Correspondent

Brian Hadfield is spending his Friday night a little differently than he normally does. Instead of spending time with his usual crowd – his rugby teammates – he is surrounded by 60 some rambunctious kids in the YMCA gym. The Mentor Duluth program is hosting its annual holiday party here, and Brian is careful to keep his eye on his mentee, Matt.

“Matt, it’s about seven, I think they are about ready to start the piñata,? said Brian.

Thirteen-year-old Matt rushes over to a snowman made of Paper mâché decorated with a red wool scarf, black eyes, and a top hat hanging from a lowered basketball hoop.

“I bet Matt will break it,? said Brian, with a smile.

Brian was right. Standing at around five-foot-four, gripping a hockey stick, Matt pierced the snowman with the florescent orange blade of the stick. With one more whack, candy covered the floor. Grinning ear to ear, he looked to Brian for approval.

“Good job buddy,? said Brian, but before he could say anymore, Matt was already running around with his friends.
Mentor Duluth is a program that connects community members with the youth.

“Children from all different walks of life are in need of a mentor. These children generally need some extra support and attention,? said Callie Ronstrom, an advocate for Mentor Duluth.

However, despite Mentor Duluth’s best efforts, there is still a lack of help among the community, especially males.

“There are just not enough volunteers, some kids wait three to four years before they get a mentor. Boys tend to wait longer because we have a lack of male volunteers, and many single moms want their kid to have a male example in their lives,? she said.

Mentors are evaluated and interviewed before they are eligible to become a mentor. For at least a year, mentors are required to spend 10-12 hours a month with their mentee.

This summer, Brian’s rugby coach, an advocate for Mentor Duluth, encouraged his players to take part in the Mentor Duluth Program. Taking their coach’s advice, Brian and his teammate decided to give it a shot.

Besides keeping up on his studies, practicing for rugby, working, playing for his intramural hockey team, he still finds time to mentor. To him, it is worth the time, especially when he saw Matt’s improvement in school right before his eyes.

“Last year Matt’s grades really couldn’t get any worse,? said Brian. “Now he has a B average in all his classes except math, which we spend a lot of time working on.?

For college students, the wallet is often empty, and there’s not a lot of cash to spare, which is why Mentor Duluth took account for that.

“We really plan a lot of free activities for our mentors and mentees, we don’t want it to be a financial burden,? said Ronstrom.

Some of the free events that Mentor Duluth has set up, besides the holiday parties, are free tours at the Gleensheen, free admission to plays at the playhouse, and discounted tickets to sporting events.

Despite all the planned activities they do, sometimes just spending time together is good enough.

“My favorite thing to do with Brian is just hanging out,? said Matt.

The next stop is the origami station. As Matt talks about his adventures in school, he strategically folds purple paper into a swan.

“If you can do that [origami] from memory, how come you can’t remember your math?? said Brian.

Matt shakes off Brian’s comment with a shrug and a half smile as he continues to talk about school. Appearing to be a bit mischievous, Matt talks about one his least favorite teachers.

“The other day I threw a pencil across the room and it hit her in the head. She never found out it was me,? he says.
Brian shakes his head.

“He really is a troublemaker,? he said.

Brian has plans to redirect the energy that Matt shows in the classroom to the hockey rink.

“I am going to teach Matt how to skate,? said Brian, smiling.

Matt, for the first time tonight was looking a little bored. “Matt what do you want to do next? Did you want to go upstairs?? Brian asked.

“Yeah, sure,? said Matt with a grin.

“Let’s go swimming,? said Brian.

“No I hate swimming,? said Matt. “It makes my skin itch!?

Brian smiles and shakes his head in response, and just like that, the two are off.