Project MENTOR (Meaningful Encouragement Now TO Reduce Alcohol and Drug Use and Increase Self Esteem) is a highly successful mentoring program which reaches into the schools and community for caring adults and teens who commit to nurturing and supporting young people who may otherwise slip through the cracks. This program provides children and youth with a fundamental resource necessary for the productive growth of a child, that of the sustaining presence of a caring adult in their lives. Hundreds of adults who live and/or work in Community Unit School District #300, a unit district located 35 miles northwest of Chicago, have committed to making a difference in the lives of hundreds of children.
This school-based volunteer program, begun in 1993, has trained more than 800 volunteers to mentor elementary, middle and high school students. Volunteers who enter a one-on-one relationship with a student learn effective communication skills, age-appropriate activities which nourish and strengthen the mentoring relationship and how to sustain the relationship within the midst of their busy professional and personal lives.
The philosophy of the mentoring program is that every child needs a special adult in their life and the children who participate in District #300's mentoring program are not limited by socioeconomic, cultural or educational factors. The highly diverse district educates students whose family backgrounds range from uneducated to highly educated, from low income to affluent and from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Mentors are matched with children across the demographic spectrum from rural, suburban and urban areas within the district.
Data collected indicates students who participate in the mentoring program show increases in grades, self-esteem and attendance—all strong benchmarks of success. But the adults gain much from participating in the program as well. Becoming a mentor represents a way to "pay back" the special adults they knew in their own childhood. Their training includes ways to foster the attitude of returning something back to the community in the mentees, too.
Project MENTOR's director notes that, "it's not that people don't care about children, but they need a vehicle to reach children and they need to learn how to fit it into their lives. Project MENTOR provides that vehicle and the community has responded to the challenge."