Pete Gimre, owner of Gimre’s Shoes in Astoria, volunteers for many projects and organizations. But of all the volunteer work he does, the Lunch Buddy Mentoring Program is the most gratifying. “Just seeing the joy on that kindergartner’s face when you show up and do something as simple as eating lunch and going to recess, that spells success,” he says.
The mentoring program partners at-risk children, or those struggling at school, with one caring adult. The mentor spends one hour a week with the assigned student, eating lunch and attending recess. During recess, the mentor and student may read, play board games or go outside.
Stacey Brown, chair of The Way to Wellville Clatsop County and a mentor for three years, says lunch buddies provide an encouraging, positive role model for children who likely don’t have that support elsewhere. Many kids assume they are going to be failures, she says. The mentor gives positive feedback and guides them into successful thinking processes.
Lunch Buddy Chair Meche Brownlow says the relationship with a consistent, caring adult improves student attendance, social skills, conversation and self-confidence. Teachers report improved student attitudes, better relationships with other students and kids looking forward to that time with their mentor.
“At end of year, kids are better people with positive attitudes and outlooks on life,” Brown says. And the rewards for the mentors are great, she adds.
A mentor should be a good listener, someone who can keep information confidential and commit to the Lunch Buddy program for one school year. “Longer is even better,” says Brownlow, explaining that some mentors follow the same student for more than one year, deepening the relationship.
“Because I am a parent,” Brown says, “I use my instincts to identify needs and create a path for where kids need to go, without being preachy. It is important to gain trust, while gently guiding the student. Be there, have lunch, ask, ‘What’s going on?” Their needs might be different than what you imagine.”
Currently, there are 40 to 45 mentors who serve students at Astor Elementary, Lewis & Clark Elementary, Astoria Middle School, Warrenton Grade School, Seaside Heights and Gearhart Grade School. Mentors will begin school visits in late September or October.
Site coordinators at each school match mentors with students. The coordinators prioritize the need of the students with the skills and experience of the adults.
Recruitment of mentors is ongoing, because there is a waiting list of students at each school. To volunteer, contact the Lunch Buddy board at email@example.com
The Lunch Buddy Mentoring Program is a nonprofit and receives funds from United Way and donations. A benefit will be held Tuesday Sept. 26 at Fort George Brewery. From 4:30 to 9 p.m. patrons can enjoy games, bid on auction items and donate to the cause.
Funds are used to fund an executive director, outreach materials, backpacks and events. All Clatsop County kindergartners through second-graders in need receive a backpack full of school supplies. Brownlow says this is especially helpful mid-year when new students arrive.
The program is seeking a new executive director, after the resignation of Vanessa Garner at the end of August. The Lunch Buddy board of seven wants to become more hands-on, learn more about the program and refocus its efforts before it hires a new executive director, says Brownlow. More board members who can support the program are sought, but they don’t need to be mentors. Especially needed are people who can help expand outreach through the web and social media, Brownlow says.
If you are interested in becoming a Lunch Buddy mentor or board member, email firstname.lastname@example.org and express an interest. Candidates will be interviewed about interests and screened with a background check. If accepted, the mentor may choose the age, gender and school he prefers.