By: Russell White, AmeriCorps VISTA Member with the Iowa Mentoring Partnership
For more than 40 years, YSS has remained committed to positively impacting the lives of children, youth and families, giving what many have never experienced—opportunity and hope for a brighter future. YSS seeks to create a world where youth are valued and empowered to be strong. To do so, it is YSS’s mission to create hope and opportunity by putting kids first. In the case of a little boy in Ames named Kaedan, that is exactly what YSS did. When Kaedan was admitted into the mentoring program they spared no effort in finding the best possible match for him. In December of 2017, YSS matched Kaedan with his new mentor, Joe Christensen.
Kaedan is not that dissimilar from most young boys his age. He enjoys playing a myriad of sports, but basketball and soccer are his favorites! He also enjoys playing video games whenever he gets home. But he is a bit shy and struggled to make friends on the playground. His teacher explained that Kaeden was very much into “social justice” and would go around to try and police the playground. Which is not much of a surprise, because while at home much of Kaedan’s play personality and play activities were often playing dress up as a police officer and enforcing laws with his stuff animals. One day the discussion for a mentor was brought up in an IEP (individual education program) meeting. Kaedan’s mother, Valerie, suggested a mentor from Ames Police Department (APD) but sadly no mentoring program from APD had been established yet, so the school counselor decided to look further into it. It is incredible beyond measure that Kaedan had teachers and counselors that were willing to go above and beyond to help Kaedan.
Luckily, they came across YSS and figured it would be the best fit for Kaedan. In no time Kaedan would soon have a mentor to look up to and to give him a better sense of opportunity. Little did Kaedan know that he would be matched with Joe Christensen, a police officer of the Ames Police Department. Joe could not have been a better match for young Kaedan. Not just because Joe is a lot of fun and plays all of Kaedan’s favorite sports with him, or because Joe is a nice and fun guy, or because he shows him cool new skills and tricks. Kaedan has the dream to become a police officer one day.
Officer Joe Christensen has been a police officer for a little over two years now. One day, Joe got an e-mail from a colleague of his that works within the community asking if any fellow police officers would be interested in volunteering with YSS. Joe likes kids just as much as he likes being a cop and happily grabbed at the opportunity. Kaedan was quite shy and quiet with Joe the first few times meeting him, but overtime he started to open to him and talk more. To this day, however, whenever Joe first comes in, Kaedan tries to play it cool and not acknowledge the fact that the two of them are good buddies. After a while though, Kaedan is just as playful and silly as any other boy.
For one, Kaedan is very competitive which is also why he loves play basketball and soccer. But whenever they play soccer, Kaedan much prefers to play on the same team as Joe. Often times it’ll be the two of them versus three other boys; but even with the odds stacked against them they do pretty well and have a blast all the same! Joe even taught Kaedan the soccer trick of how to lift a soccer ball off the ground with only using your feet. Kaedan thought that was pretty cool. Whenever it is cold outside during the winter, they like to make snow tunnels through the snow. Then when they’re warming up from their adventures out in the snow, they play board games like Chutes and Ladders or Connect 4.
Whenever they’re not playing games, Joe and Kaedan just sit down and talk about what is going on in each other’s life. Kaedan really enjoys spending time with Joe and is really appreciative of it too. He’s a shy kid, but even he couldn’t hide the joy in his voice whenever he told his site coordinator how fun it is when Joe spends time with him. Joe can see that it is “helpful to him to see someone who is not a teacher or a parent and to just see a different role from an adult outside of those roles.”
But, to no surprise, it isn’t just benefiting Kaedan. For Officer Christensen the mentoring relationship between him and Kaedan has given him some amazing insights. For starters, it gives him insight on what is happening inside the school system. But, more personally, he gets to experience – for just a little bit – what it is like trying to grow up through Kaedan. In a way, Joe gets to go back to school himself. By being so committed to the mentor relationship and immersing himself in Kaedan’s experience, both Joe and Kaedan’s teachers have seen that it helps Kaedan focus more on his schoolwork. Officer Christensen not only shows a commitment to Kaedan at school during the mentoring program, but is committed to building a personal relationship and friendship/bond and spent time with him this past summer. He was kind and reassuring as Kaedan struggles at times with unfamiliar routines and allowed him to bring his sister along as well. In return, spending time with Kaedan is loads of fun and a nice healthy break from life at work. “It is fun and not a huge time commitment to just hang out with a child and influence them for the better.”
Joe and Kaedan’s relationship is one that definitely pulls at heart strings – a young boy who has the dream of becoming a police officer is mentored by a police officer. To make things even more inspiring and touching, when asked about his thoughts on Kaedan’s likelihood of becoming a police officer someday, Officer Christensen gave his genuine thoughts on the idea. “You know, he’s only a little kid right now; he’ll most likely change his idea for a career multiple times from now until then. If he does become a cop, than that’s great; if not, that’s great too. My goal is to help him realize his dreams and help him shoot for that dream. As long as I do that for him, I’ll go home a happy man.” Those are the words of a truly committed mentor to their mentee. If that was not enough, Joe also had one important suggestion for all the mentors and those who are thinking about being mentors out there. “Consistency is key. You have to stick with it. There are more benefits for the kid the more reliable the relationship is. I’d advise that you try to make a commitment to returning to the program year after year.”
The Iowa Mentoring Partnership (IMP) would agree with Officer Christensen. Reliability, consistency and trust are crucial to a positive and impactful relationship between mentor and mentee. Joe and Kaedan are a shining example of what that kind of commitment can bring. Officer Christensen is a leader in his community and part of that leadership is because he is committed to his friendship with Kaedan. As for now, Kaedan still has a strong desire to be a police officer – just like Officer Christensen. Not to mention, that Kaedan’s view of police have fundamentally changed due to his experience with Joe. Prior to being matched with Officer Christensen, Kaedan’s view of police was to “take down the bad guys.” But now, Kaedan sees police officers as friends!
You too can help a child realize their dreams and their potential. All it takes is one-hour a week. Do you want to make a positive impact in a child’s life? Click here to find out more on how you too can become a mentor!