Together with like-minded community partners, volunteers, and parents/guardians, we aspire that each child in our program will develop higher personal goals, avoid risky behavior and enjoy academic success while becoming persons of upstanding character.
“I have this accountability statement right by my desk every day, and it impacts everything I do,” says Suzy Crook, executive director of West Kentucky Mentoring Inc (WKYM). “That’s what I hang my hat on, so to speak.”
Crook has been involved with mentoring for the past ten years. Before WKYM was founded in 2011, she worked with the Murray-Calloway branch of the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) program. When the branch was dissolved, Crook decided to form a new non-profit based on the same research-based mentoring approach.
“I’m the only person employed by WKYM, so I’m also the janitor,” Crook jokes. “My biggest responsibility is the programming because that’s what we’re all about: matching responsible, caring adults to children that have a social or academic need.”
WKYM pairs kids with such needs to adult or college-age mentors. The mentors and their mentees spend at least one hour a week together, working on homework, playing games, or simply hanging out.
“My student is an eight-year-old named Jesus,” says Becca Whitman, a mentor and student at Murray University. “We’ve been matched for a year and a half now, and we’ve grown really close personally. He can trust me. I’m a positive person in his life that he can look up to. He’s the oldest of four children, so he doesn’t really have anyone to play with that’s his age. It’s fun when he gets to be with me because it’s just one-on-one and he gets all the attention.”
However, while WKYM is geared towards helping kids like Jesus, mentors also get something out of it. “I would recommend the experience to any adult or college student. It’s been super fun and rewarding to help a child that needs a friend and a positive influence in their life. I’ve grown in patience and confidence in my leadership abilities.”
Of course, for such a connection to be made, Crook has to carefully go over the paperwork filled out by the parent/guardian referring a child for the program. Most parents have preferences regarding mentors, such as gender, religious background, marital status, or age. Crook does her best to fulfill each request, although it can be difficult finding certain types of mentors. In particular, the program has a shortage of both male mentors and adult volunteers.
And the mentors in WKYM are thoroughly vetted to ensure they’re right for the program. Each volunteer has to undergo a background check and provide three good references, as well attend an interview, orientation, and meet with Crook personally. The application process might seem demanding, but it’s important to ensure that each child is in capable and caring hands.
WKYM looks for mentors who are committed, both in terms of time and heart. “They need to care for kids. They need to have a passion to carry out the relationship,” says Crook. “Those are the very basics of making a change in kids’ lives or anyone’s life. We’re all about impacting lives, and the mentors need to have those traits. I can’t give them that.”
Furthermore, WKYM doesn’t just provide one-on-one meetings between mentors and kids; it also provides opportunities for kids to get involved in the community, such as international food nights that teach the students about different countries, an upcycling craft club, and a partnership with Calloway County’s 4-H chapter. WKYM also receives a grant from the Boy Scouts of America that covers the cost of Cub Scout activities for any mentees that want to join the organization.
Aside from the grant, WKYM receives donations from individuals, local businesses, fundraising events and even one Murray State sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi (which belongs to). According to Crook, WKYM only has a “shoestring budget,” but no matter how tight things get, she always looks to the accountability statement on her desk.
“If something isn’t adding up to that criteria, then I don’t need to be doing it,” she says. Crook’s goal is the same as it was back in her BBBS days: to help kids grow in every way possible. And with the help of community donors and volunteers, that goal has become a reality.
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