Western Youth Network, which opened 30 years ago, provides one-on-one mentoring for children ages 6-17, who are recommended to join the program through teachers, parents and community members.
Two-thirds of WYN’s mentors are Appalachian State University students. Angela McMann, Director of Mentoring Services at WYN said college students are more desired by mentees and show children that college is a realistic option.
WYN mentoring started when former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt created a grant for mentoring programs.
“The initial intent of the grant funding was to reduce the kids’ involvement in the criminal justice system,” McMann said. “But we’ve expanded that now to really encompass helping kids who need a positive role model.”
Mentors spend time with their mentee for at least 2 hours per week for one year. Emma Florin, senior social work major and intern at WYN said she and her mentee enjoy doing “girly” things.
“Our relationship is really good – we hang out as much as possible,” Florin said. “We like to do ‘girly’ things together. We love getting nails done, shopping and stuff like that.”
Florin said her mentee has become a lot more self-confident since they met two years ago.
“She was very shy when I first met her,” Florin said. “She’s become a lot more open with me. Her self-confidence has gone up a lot.”
Despite the assistance they provide, McMann said one of the biggest issues with Appalachian student mentors is their unpredictable schedules.
“We love student mentors,” McMann said. “But a lot of student mentors aren’t here in the summer.”
If a student mentor leaves in the summer, this can cause communication issues with the mentee.
Elizabeth Pardieu, an academic advisor in the College of Business and the WYN mentoring program assistant said Appalachian students are good because they play the role of an older sibling.
“I think students are great,” Pardieu said. “Cool college students are something [WYN children] need. [They] look more like a big sister or big brother.”
All mentors are required to sign a confidentiality waiver before spending time with their child. This prevents mentors from discussing their mentee’s issues with people who have not gone through a background check with WYN.
However, mentors are permitted to talk to other mentors about some problems they may face via a new on-campus club that was started last year, titled the Mentoring Club.
Christine Patterson, a junior social work major and mentor for WYN, said the Mentoring Club is a great place to be with people who are dealing with some of the same problems.
“It’s a safe confidential space,” Patterson said. “In any of the helping professions it’s important to have support from your coworkers or from other volunteers.”
Florin said mentoring is really easy and a lot of fun.
“It’s just like having a friend, but a little one,” Florin said. “It’s just really fun.”
Story: Clare McPherson, Intern News Reporter
Photo: Sarah Hawkey, Photographer