Mentoring program celebrates two decades of guidance

The Central Montana Youth Mentoring Program aims to match young students with older student mentors to create a network of support. Top, Grant Gaines stands with mentor Bayron Merker. On the bottom, Mason Brown and mentor LilyAnne laugh at the camera.

Photo by Jenny Gessaman

Even if they don’t have children in school, a lot of Lewistown residents are familiar with the Central Montana Youth Mentoring Program. That might be because 2017 is its 20th year partnering student mentors with student mentees.

The organization was founded in 1997, according to Office Assistant Sandy Mikeson, when school counselor Maggie Moffatt wanted to create support system for young students.

Moffatt now lives in Missoula, but the Mentoring Program is still on her mind. She was a counselor at the time, and remembers the motivation for starting the organization.

“I has so many kids who I felt like needed more relationships,” she said.

Thanks to a partnership with the high school Key Club and its advisor D.K. Slagel, Moffatt found a way to provide those relationships.

“What we do know is most children idolize high-school aged kids, and it taught [mentors] compassion and volunteerism,” she said. “For some, it helped formulate what they wanted to do later in life."

Today, the Mentoring Program matches a high school mentor with a younger mentee, and the pair spends an hour a week together. Grant Gaines, a 10- but soon to be 11-year-old, and his mentor Bayron Merker are a great example of the program’s goal. Merker started as a mentor three years ago, while Gaines joined two years ago. The two chose each other for partners this school year, after having great time together last year. The Mentoring Program gives Gaines a sense of belonging. That, of course, is below layers and layers of just plain enjoyment. “[I joined the program again] because it is really cool and really fun, and [Bayron] did teach me how to play two new sports,” he said. Gaines was quick to add he and his mentor were lawn dart champions at a Mentoring Program gathering last year. Merker, on the other hand, gets a sense of fulfillment. He described always wanting a little brother relationship, and said he had a great time last year with Gaines. Merker knows the program isn’t just for fun, though. “What we’re supposed to do is we’re supposed to make these kids watch us, and be like us, like the cool kids,” he explained. “It’s neat. But we have a responsibility to teach them to be respectful, how to say their pleas and thank you’s.” All of this is done in positive way, such as cheering on a favorite hockey team together, Merker added. LilyAnne Leininger, a mentor for all four years of high school, agreed. She said mentors even get an added bonus for their resumes. Leininger encouraged other students to join, saying it would fit it almost anyone’s schedule. “I think it’s a really valuable program that benefits the mentee and mentor,” she said. “It’s not like it’s hard: It’s just one hour a week.” Leininger is partnered with 11-year-old Mason Brown this year. It’s his first year in the Mentoring Program, and although sickness has limited the pair’s fun so far, he’s having a great time. Partnerships like this, and the support they create for students, are exactly why the Central Montana Youth Mentoring Program Board of Directors wants to celebrate 20 years while fundraising for 20 more. The nonprofit even reached new heights this year, according to High School Coordinator Angela Woolett. “This year, we have a record number of mentor and mentee pairs: 63,” she said. The Board of Directors hopes funding future years will impact students’ lives as positively as past years have, and leave stories like Gaines as testimony to the fact. “I really like this because Bayron does actually help me say my please and thank you’s, and it makes my life better,” Gaines said. “He makes me feel happy.” For more information on the program or the anniversary celebration, call the Central Montana Youth Mentoring Program office at 535-8899. Help guarantee 20 more For a small fee, Mentoring Program anniversary festivities will include a taco bar, silent auction and raffles. Former and current clients, as well as influential volunteers, will speak throughout the night. The biggest fundraiser is a raffle for a $1,000 travel voucher at Main Connection. Help the Central Montana Youth Mentoring Program continue on for 20 more years, all while having a little fun, at the organization’s 20th anniversary party: When: Nov. 17 What time: 6-8:30 p.m. Where: The Elks Club at the Pine Meadows Golf Course, 320 Country Club Lane



How do you think 2018 will be compared to 2017?