Following the path of someone who has been there, and gaining knowledge along the way, generally leads to a positive outcome, which is the goal of the Give Me Five mentoring program in place for some Milaca students.
January is National Mentoring Month, providing an opportunity to take an inside look at this program.
Kathy Fitschen, who has been in Milaca since 2000, is in her eighth year overseeing GM5, taking over the program as coordinator in 2006.
Along with this program, she also serves as the program coordinator for the Milaca Community Education, while coordinating the Tuesday clubhouse drop-in program.
In addition, she works to head up the delegation for Special Olympics.
Fitschen said the GM5 program provides mentoring for students in fifth through eighth grades during weekly group meetings at Milaca High School.
Make a difference
“We welcome students that want to learn how to make a difference in our community, practice social skills and make new friends,” Fitschen said.
However, she pointed out that students must first be referred to this program by parents or school staff.
“Our mentors come from many backgrounds and experiences and provide leadership and group mentoring to our participants that will last a lifetime,” Fitschen said.
Once they get together, the students and mentors enjoy a number of activities together including cooking meals, playing games, field trips, making projects, fundraising, community service opportunities such as planting trees, and making monthly visits to the Elim Home.
Students take part in the program for up to four years, but after that time they “have aged out,” Fitschen said.
Once they have left eighth grade, they then have an opportunity to become a mentor.
Having gone through the program, this provides a perfect opportunity for them to help younger students.
Presently, five adult mentors are a part of the GM5 program.
The mentors are area professionals, including teachers and community individuals.
The group meets each Thursday after school and also goes to the Elim Home once a month to play bingo with the residents.
Another favorite activity for the group is taking part in the Holiday Helping Hands program, where businesses contribute funds allowing the youth an opportunity to go shopping for Christmas gifts for others who may not otherwise receive any.
The students “look forward,” to fundraising; a grant through the United Way helps to fund the program, Fitschen said.
“This gives students an opportunity to use and learn new social skills,” she added.
While working to give back, the field trips also serve as a way of learning more about their surroundings.
“Students that have been referred are those who can benefit from a little extra attention,” Fitschen said. “A lot of our kids aren’t geared toward sports, and this gives them an opportunity to learn the world is bigger than them.”
A part of the fundraising for the group includes the aluminum can collection trailer located across from the school.
Fitschen also said the group collects used ink cartridges, electronics and cellphones.
Items can be dropped off at the high school through the district office entrance, or contact the Community Education Office at 320-982-7307 for details.
Shaw is a mentor
Recently the group celebrated “I Am a Mentor Day” along with “Thank You Mentor Day.”
One of the long-standing mentors who takes time to help with this program is Susan Shaw.
Having been approached earlier, she just wasn’t quite ready, but once “Kathy approached I was read to accept,” Shaw said.
Now having spent “around” eight years in the program, Shaw remains upbeat and is still inspired by the program.
In her work as district administrator of the Milaca Soil and Water Conservation District, Shaw appreciates that she can “slide in with the group right after work.”
“This is a refreshing bunch of kids to work with,” Shaw said.
She sees this as a time to interact with young people, being able to talk and spend time with the youth socially.
Being single and having no children, Shaw sees this as “a part of what makes me available for other kids.”
“This is a thoroughly rewarding experience and I would really encourage someone who has some spare time, especially men, who sometimes don’t see themselves as mentors,” Shaw concluded.
To learn more, contact Fitschen at 320-982-7193.