Unsung Heroes
Grand Area Mentors
by Laura Haley
Contributing Writer
Jul 24, 2014 | 2527 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In 2005, the Grand County School District recognized that a large number of at-risk children live in the Moab community and district officials decided it was time to try to provide some help. With the aid of a U.S. Department of Education grant, the district launched the Grand Area Mentoring (Grand AM) program.

According to Grand AM director Dan McNeil, the 2013-2014 school year resulted in a record number of 76 matches for the mentoring program, which strives to connect potentially at-risk students with an adult from the community who can offer guidance and friendship to the child.

Each week, mentors are expected to spend a minimum of one hour with their mentees, but McNeil said many of the mentors commit much more time than that.

“Some of them do special off-campus activities that can last up to two hours,” he said. “Those are utilized pretty frequently. They might go to the pool, Moab Adventure Park or hiking. They really like to go to Crystal’s Cakes and Cones.”

McNeil said the program’s surveys have shown consistently positive results for the students involved.

“This year’s survey results were awesome,” he said. “One-hundred percent of parents agree that they saw improved social skills and grades from their student. They also enjoy school more, especially on their mentoring days.”

The commitment to take on a mentee is not a small one, McNeil said.

“There is no commitment if they attend the training,” he said. However, once a mentor is paired with a mentee, the program strives for a commitment of at least one year, he said.

“Studies have shown that the longer the match, the better,” McNeil said.

Grand AM recently closed out the longest match in the history of the program. It lasted seven years.

“We have several that have been going for six,” he said.

Mentor coordinator Megan McGee said that working with the volunteers at Grand AM is an honor.

“They are incredibly generous people who donate their time and skills every week to provide guidance to kids who need it,” she said. “Every day I go to work, our volunteer mentors remind me of the good in this world.”

McGee said that mentors can help a child reach their full potential.

“Many of them just need an extra hand to overcome some bad luck in their life,” she said.

McNeil said the program is currently in need of more mentors. Despite its record number of matches, there are still several students on the waiting list to receive a match.

When matching mentors with students, McNeil said he relies on trying to match two people with similar interests.

“The mentors come in with the desire to serve these kids,” he said. “You could match them with almost anybody, and they’d show up.”

However, McNeil said the matches tend to last longer when they also are based on personality. Because of that, there is no telling how long any one student might end up waiting to be matched, he said.

One of the students who has been in the program for five years said that meeting with her mentor helped encourage her to keep attending school, get good grades and even make new friends.

“When I first started ... I was the type of girl who was anti-social and didn’t care about getting good grades in school,” she said. “But that all changed when I met my mentor, Mrs. B. She has pushed me really hard over the last five years, and now look at where I am. I’m even a member of the National Junior Honor Society. I don’t know where I would be without my mentor.”

McNeil said the program will provide training for anyone interested in becoming a mentor after the school year begins. The program also offers one-on-one training for those who can’t attend the scheduled training.

“The mentors are the unsung heroes,” he said. “It couldn’t be done without them. We couldn’t bring in all the expertise, life experience and talent without them.”

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