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Mentors 4 Kids speaks to Rotary on Thursday

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Vickey Taake (l) and Maggie Gonzalez (r) addressed the Carmi Rotary on Thursday.  Photo credit Kenneth Dwain Harrelson.

The Carmi Rotary club welcomed two speakers from the Mentors 4 Kids program out of Harrisburg on Thursday. Vickey Taake and Maggie Gonzalez made the trip to Carmi to discuss their organization with the Rotarians.

Vickey, who is the executive director, spoke first, telling the Rotarians that Mentors 4 Kids was started in 2009 by a group of people who had been mentors in other programs. They saw a need in our area and after a year of getting organized and certified, started the program, which now covers six counties in southeastern Illinois.

The children being served primarily come from single family homes, and most often from economically depressed homes. She stressed that the kids are good kids, just kids needing adult supervision, and someone to look up to. Vickey went on to explain that many if not all of the kids come from backgrounds where one or more adults have let them down. Having an adult to trust is an important part of the program.

Maggie, who is the case manager for Mentors 4 Kids then took the floor. She stated that people sometimes think being a mentor means doing big-expensive things with the children, when in fact, going out to eat, to a park, or even to a movie is a big thing to the these kids. She also stressed that not one single mentor is perfect, just open to being a positive example in a kid’s life.

The pair then took questions, and went on to explain that becoming a mentor is about a two month process, and that there is training involved. There is also ongoing support available so no one feels abandoned when they volunteer.

There is also a constant need for mentors. There have been times when as many as 30 children were on the waiting list. That number is much smaller now, but at any moment new names could appear. As far as ages of mentors, they told the club they have had mentors as young as 19 – fresh out of high school, all the way up to a 90 year old man in Harrisburg.

After a child has been in the program for six months there is an assessment done. The numbers are very promising. 65% of the children are doing better at home, and 65% are doing better in school. Even more impressive, 50% of the kids have a better opinion of themselves in just six months.

In closing, they told a very moving story of a young man who had been involved with the mentor program since he was very young. That same young man recently got married, and had his mentor there at the wedding. He told the story that the beginning of his mentor relationship had been rocky, because his mentor was a very strict, very outspoken man, who didn’t hold back. Now, all these years later, he realized that was exactly what he had needed, and even said, that his mentor had made him the man he is today.

The final thought; Vickey told the Rotarians that not one mentor had ever said, “I wish I hadn’t done this.”

In club business, plans are well underway for the Spring Trivia contest, which will be held on Saturday, March 19th at the American Legion in Carmi. Much more information will be coming out soon for this big event.

Andy Williams was named the day’s phantom, and guest speaker Vickey Taake won the 50/50 drawing but did not claim the day’s cash prize.

The Carmi Rotary club meets every Thursday at noon at the First United Methodist Church in Carmi. Anyone wishing to learn more about this worldwide civic club is more than welcome to attend a meeting or speak with any Carmi Rotarian.