Fort Dodge Community School District

Building Bridges: Mentoring Program in Need of Volunteers - from The Messenger

September 7, 2021

It doesn’t take much to make a positive impact on a kid’s life.

For the mentors with the Bridges mentoring program at the Fort Dodge Community School District, it just takes about an hour a week.

The Bridges program, which was started in 1994, pairs an adult in the Fort Dodge community with a student in the Fort Dodge schools who just needs a little extra support and encouragement.

“We’re not trying to replace anybody, we’re just trying to add a positive role model to the young person’s life,” explained Corey Moody, student services and case manager at Fort Dodge Senior High. “We have so many kids that just need a lot of assurance and have a lot of needs.”

Students are referred to Moody by their teachers, school counselors, principals and parents. The students range from elementary school all the way through high school. There’s never a shortage of students in need of a mentor, Moody said.

However, there is a shortage of adults volunteering to be mentors.

“I have a waiting list for every school,” he said. “So we’re just looking to recruit, replace and kind of rebuild from last year in the schools.”

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, mentors weren’t able to go into the schools to see their students. Many kept in touch through phone calls and video chats, but it’s not quite the same. And now, more kids are struggling.

“As young people return to school and reconnect with teachers, coaches and classmates, we are reminded of the critical role that caring adult relationships have in their success,” Moody said. “Our kids now more than ever need a web of supportive relationships to guide them.”

“I think it’s just a stressful time for kids,” he added.

About 95 percent of the district’s students are back in the classroom, he said.

“We have kids in our buildings that haven’t been in school for over 500 days,” he said.

Moody said there are about 30 students on the mentoring waiting list right now. Ideally, he’d like to be able to pair each student on the list with a mentor, and have a reserve roster of people willing to mentor for students who are referred to the program throughout the school year.

“Any kid in this building could use another person just to guide them, support them, be there for them, have another person in your corner,” Moody said.

To volunteer as a mentor, those interested just need to fill out a mentoring application and go through a simple background check. Once approved, Moody will work with them to find a good match with a student and do a short training with the mentor before they go into the school.

The time commitment is just 45 minutes to an hour a week. Most mentors just visit their students at school during the school day, sometimes even just over a lunch break. They’ll chat, help them with their homework, play games, read to them — whatever works best for the pairings.

“It’s not so much what you do,” Moody said. “It’s taking that time to do it.”

Each student’s needs are different.

“I have mentors that are doing some things outside of school, with the parents’ permission,” Moody said.

Building the relationship between the student and the mentor starts right away. Moody likes to make those pairings when the students are in elementary school and see them grow throughout the years.

“The younger the connection, the better they build rapport and connections as they get older,” he said. “The goal is if it’s a good connection, they’ll stay with the same student throughout the years. We’ve had matches start in first, second or third grade that go on to graduate high school, which is pretty cool.”

In the 27 years of Bridges, the impact of the program is pretty clear.

“I’ve had a couple that had a mentor when they were little and have now become a mentor,” Moody said.

Moody encourages any adult to be a mentor. It doesn’t take any special training or knowledge. Mentors don’t need to be an expert in kids.

“I would say any positive person can mentor at any age. I have college students that are mentoring, and we also have retired people that have a lot to give to our young people. People from all walks of life can be a mentor.”

Moody said he’d like to see more volunteers from the workforce working in trades become mentors.

Matt Harvey, of Matt Harvey Construction, has been mentoring with Bridges for the past decade. He’s worked with three students — the first moved away, his second graduated last year and he’s working with a senior at FDSH now.

“You learn so much from them,” Harvey said. “I think I get more out of it than he does.”

To apply to be a mentor, call Moody at 515-574-5469 or email cmoody@fdschools.org.

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