National Mentoring Month is recognized each January to focus attention on the need for and importance of mentors who volunteer their time to assure positive outcomes for young people. VBCPS is fortunate to have many individuals from the community, businesses, military, faith-based organizations and government agencies who mentor students in our schools. Their work will be highlighted on The Core throughout January.
When Shirley Zartman’s phone rang on Christmas Day nearly a decade ago, she was not expecting it to be her former lunch buddy Heidi.
“She moved to Alabama over the summer,” Zartman said, “and I had not seen her since. She told me she just calling to say ‘hello.’”
Heidi is one of six students Zartman has mentored through Malibu Elementary’s “Lunch Buddies” mentoring program over the past 15 years. Zartman explained she typically has lunch with the same student for three years (third through fifth grade), but Heidi left Virginia Beach before fourth grade.
“After that Christmas Day phone call,” Zartman said. “Heidi would call every few months and send letters. Then her letters started coming from Arizona, so she must have moved again. Her most recent letter said that she will be graduating from high school in May.”
With a gentle smile and obvious pride, Zartman added, “She invited me and Katie to come to her graduation.”
“Katie” is Katie Taylor, Malibu’s guidance counselor who initiated the Lunch Buddies program 15 years ago with support from volunteers at her church, like Zartman. Today Taylor has buddies from multiple faith-based organizations such as Thalia United Methodist Church, King’s Grant Presbyterian Church and King’s Grant Baptist Church, as well as support from retired teachers, DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officers and other individuals in the community who have heard of the program from friends or colleagues.
“I called my friend as soon as I retired and asked how I could get involved,” says retired nurse Norma McNelly. “When I was working, I wanted to do this. All of my friends had such a great time serving as lunch buddies.”
Now McNelly is the one having fun. “My neighbors ask me about my lunch buddy. My former buddies, now in middle school and high school, ask me how the program is going when I see them at a store or in the community.”
Zartman said her late husband also enjoyed stories from lunch. “Even when his memory wasn’t what it used to be, he always reminded me of my Lunch Buddies appointment because he always wanted to know about how my buddy was doing.”
Mentor Kim Arris-Potter became a lunch buddy when her two daughters left for college. “I just love it,” she said. “When my girls, now 24 and 22, were out of the home, I missed having younger kids around. I have a heart for kids, and this program is a mutual blessing.”
DARE officer Deputy James Walters feels the same way.
“I do it for the kids,” Walters said. “Every student is different and has his own story.”
Unlike the other mentors in the room that serves as the Lunch Buddies Café, Becky Lanham is new to the program this school year. Taylor observes that Lanham’s fourth-grade buddy, who is not always quick to smile, was belly laughing during lunch with his mentor. However, Lanham says her time is just as joyful.
“Oh, he is the one who makes me smile,” she said. “He makes my day. He gives to me as much as I hope I’m giving to him.”
Taylor knows these mentors are making a difference.
“The best part of my day is seeing the students’ faces light up when they see their lunch buddies waiting for them,” she said. “I think people look in [the Lunch Buddies Café] and think that they’re just playing games, but the spillover is social, emotional and academic for these students.”
“You can make a difference in a child’s life. And the difference they make in your life is such as blessing.”