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Knockout Mentoring


The bet was that if Nick beat Adam one more time at knockout, Adam would buy his mentee a soda. It had been a pretty good day for Nick so far, but Adam thought he might still have a chance against his 8th grade competitor. Yet after several more basketball shots it was clear that Nick had creamed him, and Adam brought the victor his soda.

Nick and Adam met in fall of 2015 through the Independence Community Schools Mentoring Program (ICSM). Adam was engaged in the Silver Cord group at his high school for which he would do 200 hours of volunteering over the course of his four years there. Val, the program director for ICSM, encouraged Adam to participate in mentoring his senior year, and matched him with Nick. Nick had had a hard previous semester and found the opportunity to get a mentor.

I’m interviewing the two over the phone almost a year after they were matched for school-based mentoring and they talk like old friends. Val, the program director for ICSM, asks if they ended up studying together at all. The boys laugh and tell her no; they were too busy playing basketball. Between knockout and nitro ball, the two also enjoy playing Connect Four, eating ice cream, and just hanging out to talk.

And for both of them, that was exactly what they needed. In a paper he wrote for English class about someone he looks up to, Nick cited Adam as being a role model in terms of grades, sports, and friendliness.

“Adam has very good grades [and he] is a very hard worker…I got a 3.2 [last quarter] and it’s because I look up to him. Knowing that he’s so smart it makes me want to get good grades like him,” Nick writes. More importantly, Nick says that spending time with Adam regularly “helped me realize that I’m not very lonely.” He adds, “I like playing games with him; he’s a very good sport and he is very helpful.”

Adam is glad he got a chance to help someone else, saying that Nick “helped me, too.” During the stresses of senior year in high school, Adam found his time with Nick to be a good break from school and the opportunity to make a friend. “It was nice to just do something fun,” he says. “Nick is open to making new friends, is a good sport, and always had a good story to tell me.”

The two plan on keeping in touch through email and hanging out when Adam is home for college breaks. Nick attended Adam’s high school graduation and is excited to see his mentor start at the University of Iowa this fall, where he plans on majoring in Business with a certificate in business writing. Nick is now headed into his first year of high school where he looks forward to getting involved in sports like bowling as well as continuing in the mentoring program.

About fostering a positive and long lasting mentoring friendship, Adam tells me, “Be yourself around each other and be willing to earn more about each other.”

You can be a positive mentor for someone and have fun as well! Click here to become a mentor today.

Quentin, the Harlem Globetrotters and Me

The following is a heartwarming story written up by mentor DJ after an outing with mentee Quentin to see the Globetrotters. Quentin and DJ are matched through Mentoring Affects Youth (M.A.Y.) in Shenandoah.

“Yesterday I had the joy of taking Quentin to see The Harlem Globetrotters in Omaha at Century-Link Center.  Quentin has never seen them and prior to this didn’t know a whole lot about them.  I purchased what I believed would be very good seats for his first time.

We arrived at the arena and I could tell he was immediately taken back by the size of the facility.  In normal Q style he posed with one of the statues out front of the arena.

We got inside the arena and before we even sat in our seats, bought a single souvenir or snack we walked around and all he could do was grin.  He said “I’ve got this tingly feeling in my stomach because I’m so happy.”

We found where the memorabilia was being sold (on the floor next to the court) and we made our way down.  A boy has to have proper memorabilia to remember the first time he saw The Harlem Globetrotters!

Q decided he would like some cotton candy so our next stop was the concession stand.  Now loaded with merchandise, drinks, popcorn and cotton candy we searched for our seats.  We found section 120 and asked the attendant where we could find 120C.  She had no idea what C meant but I was certainly in the right spot!  Section 120 was right above us, row BB seats 19 and 20.  We walked up a short flight of stairs and there we were seated.  Not bad seats but not as good as I had hope or even thought I purchased.  We had a rail somewhat blocking our view but Q didn’t let that discourage him.  He made sure to once again let me know he was feeling happy.  He thanked me on several occasions.  I honestly got a little overwhelmed just by being there with him and feeling his energy and excitement.  (Not an easy task when you have 1000 kids with basketballs bouncing them wildly everywhere haha)

I admit I was a bit disappointed in our seats but was still bound and determined to have a great time.

A few moments later the attendant showed back up with two other spectators and asked us for our tickets.  Couldn’t help but wonder why! She just saw them 2 minutes ago AND she sat us there.  Well apparently we were in someone else’s seats.  Not good.  The attendant directed us down to see yet another attendant.  That attendant passed us off to yet a third attendant who happened to know the seating chart for the game.  We were then escorted to our actual seats “Courtside Center Court!”  The look on Q’s face was priceless!!

Ok I was a little excited too!

The game started and from the very beginning it seemed as if we were part the action.  Q just watched in amazement as the team made dunk after dunk, half court shots and passed the ball faster than your eyes could watch.  He laughed, we laughed so hard.

Little did I know that I may have wanted to stay seated in my original location because my involvement in the game became well… embarrassing!

I was pulled onto the court initially because the star of the show “Big Easy” was seeking a female to dance with.  He turned, saw me and proclaimed I was the ugliest woman he had ever seen!  I was escorted back to my seat.  They then grabbed a lovely lady seated next to me and drug her to the court and made her dance.  I was so relieved that wasn’t me!  She returned to her seat laughing hysterically. One of the teammates informed Big Easy I was VERY upset and  jealous for dancing with her.  Big Easy told them to get me back to the court.  YIKES!

Big Easy stated he knew I was jealous and was gonna make it right!

The lights went dim, Big Easy told everyone to light up the room with their cell phones, spot light came down and Big Easy began to sing Adele’s “Hello.”  If that wasn’t enough to embarrass me to death, he began to romance me, stroke my hair, dance with me and yes… pick me up and swirl me around.  Q had managed to catch the majority of it on video.

Best part of the video is Q screaming “That’s DJ!”

I came back to my seat and Q said he wanted to get on the court.  I could only hope.  After moments of being drenched with a bucket of water, harassed by the opposing team coach and just all around fully engaged in the show, his moment came!  He was so excited to make it to the court and perform Y.M.C.A.

The boy was having the time of his life and all I could do was laugh and smile.  We finished off the event with a couple well earned autographs.  I was even able to give him the game used wrist band from my new found love Big Easy.

On the drive home he continued to share his gratitude.  We talked about how far he has come since we first met.  In November he would have had a difficult time being away from Grandma for such a long period.  We talked about how his relationship with his Mother has improved.

He had a difficult day prior to the game when his Mother had a meltdown and was unavailable to him mentally and emotionally.  They had hoped to go do fun things that day but wound up doing nothing. The day was a huge let down and just another example of how he faces disappointment when all he wants is the love of his Mother. Quentin still manages to find strength and courage and with the help of Grandma and God he copes extremely well.

Mentoring Quentin has brought me so much more than I could ever write an a single email.  Quentin himself is a blessing and a gift.  He rewards me with his kind heart and good nature.  His potential is limitless.

However at the moment in the car when he turned to me and began to sing Adele’s “Hello” I did threaten to throw him out of the car without slowing down.”


To see the videos mentioned in the story, please visit DJ’s YouTube channel here.

To read more stories about mentors, click here.

Resiliency and Potential

“There’s a need in the Des Moines area for professionals to go into insurance…I don’t think young people are aware that it’s a viable career opportunity.” Michelle Kulish Danielson mentors a high school freshman through Community Youth Concepts mentoring program in downtown Des Moines. Despite being the insurance capital of the US, Michele says that young people who live here don’t often consider insurance as a job option. She decided to get into mentoring to not only help a young girl pursue her dreams, but also open up opportunities at her company for young people to learn about insurance and get involved.

Michele and her mentee Kelly have been matched since October 2016. When they first started meeting, Michele noticed that Kelly did not have a planner, paper, or a computer at home with which to organize or even do her homework. She bought Kelly a calendar to “give her the opportunity to understand where she is on assignments and help her be more self-directed.”

Since then, Kelly has taken the suggestion to record goals on her calendars and has been following through on class assignments, as well as on goals for herself.  The two have been goal setting as well. When Kelly shared her interest in violin, but didn’t have a teacher, Michele reached out to her neighbor, who plays violin. She set up some lessons between the two, and Kelly has been able to take her love for violin to her school orchestra.

During the process of planning Kelly’s next several years at Roosevelt high in terms of courses and credits needed for graduation, Kelly expressed an interest in financial literacy. Because Kelly doesn’t have access to a computer at home, Michele printed out the school’s course catalog and they went through it together. They found she needed a financial literacy class for one of her credits, so Kelly is very excited to start learning about financial literacy in the near future. When asked where she felt she was in terms of financial literacy on a scale of 1-10, Kelly candidly shared, “0.” Encouragingly, Michele responded with “That’s ok—plenty of kids are in the same place. You will master that skill.”  Financial planning is a good skill to learn, but is obviously complicated by a lack of finances in the first place.

Michele continues to be impressed by her mentee’s resiliency: “To deal the challenges in her environment, to operate with 0 budget…lunch is always provided by the school. She’s resilient, she takes things in stride. She works with what she has, she keeps moving forward. And never complains.”

In getting to know Kelly and seeing the struggles she faces daily, Michele says that in terms of financial security on a scale of 1-10, her mentee’s family is in the negative numbers. It isn’t uncommon for the water to get shut off, or the electricity, or the telephone. When one week the family’s car broke down, Kelly walked an hour to school and an hour back every day. When their refrigerator payment kept them from buying other necessary household items, Michele got her friends together and they found a used refrigerator to give to the family. That’s one less payment they have to make monthly.

When asked about her hopes for continued mentoring with Kelly, Michele says, “I hope she realizes her potential. I look forward to watching her grow, and realizing her own growth and development. I want her to recognize that she’s growing and changing, and be more self-aware in that way.”

You too can help a young person become aware of their potential. Sign up to become a mentor today.

Read more stories here.

Something Important


“This is probably the best Federal program they’ve ever come up with,” says Grandma Delores about the Foster Grandmas program in Fort Dodge, IA. “It benefits so many people. It’s not just good for the Foster Grandmas, it’s really good for the children, too.” And Grandma Delores would know: she’d been a Foster Grandma since 1996 and is heading into her sixteenth year. She intends to keep going as long as she can.

Grandma Delores works with young children on a regular basis, starting her mornings in the kindergarten class where she wipes tears and ties shoes. “It’s not always fun for the kids,” she says. “But it’s fun for the Foster Grandmas.” In between the tear-wiping and shoe-tying, Grandma Delores spends most of her time reading with children, helping them with math, and working with children in areas they’re struggling. As an ex-country school teacher, Grandma Delores has a lot of experience teaching multiple subjects to a variety of age groups. But not everything is the same as when she was a teacher in Iowan country: “The way they teach math now is foreign.” Grandma Delores tells me how she and the other Foster Grandmas look at the current math lessons and wonder how children understand it—but they do. “It’s kinda fun to see new ways of doing old things,” she says.

Grandma Delores recalls one of her favorite things, “seeing the light go on” for the children she teaches. “There was a little Chinese boy who couldn’t speak English, which is hard when you’re in Kindergarten. I worked with him and made flashcards, cut out pictures to put on there with the English words. He didn’t stay very long, but I hope I was able to help him.”

Another time, “One little girl had a hard time learning to tell time. We worked on it and worked on it and one day, she said, ‘I get it, this is easy!’” Grandma Delores laughs as she tells the story. Those bright spots, she says, make her feel good for sticking in there.

“For me, it’s that feeling that I have something important to do every day. I miss it in the summertime. I have a big garden, but it’s not quite the same,” she laughs. “I’m 88, or I will be in October. [Being a Foster Grandma] gives you a reason to go on. And it’s exciting! To see their faces in the morning—and if they’re not smiling, then to try and get them to.” She adds that the most important thing Foster Grandmas like her can do is, “above all, love children and be patient.”

For Grandma Delores, the Foster Grandma program led by Jeanine Nemitz and Mary Solverson “deserves a lot of credit! Jeanine and Mary are such wonderful advocates for Foster Grandmas.” She tells me how the two women have worked to secure office space, insurance, and more recognition for the program. “They deserve a pat on the back,” she adds, thankful for the work that makes her service possible and fulfilling.

You too can find fulfilling work as mentor and help young people succeed! Click here to learn more.

February Monthly Mentor

Big Sisters

“Cool, calm, collected, encouraging, there for me when I needed,” are the words mentor Anna Wolvers uses to describe her late mentor. After her mom died when she was 5, Anna got set up with mentor Sue Thompkins through her school counselor. Sue provided the support Anna needed at the time. Anna said, “It wasn’t a traditional match. Even after the match officially ended, or when I went abroad, we remained in touch.”

For Anna, mentoring is generational: after Sue passed away 3 years ago, Anna decided to pay it forward and become a mentor in Sue’s honor. She hoped to be a stabilizing presence—cool, calm, collected, encouraging, and present—for a girl like her 5 year-old self. Through this match, Anna is also helping her mentee’s parents increase their skills in reading, writing, language, and life.

When Maria met Anna, the mentee was struggling to learn English and had trouble in some academic areas. English isn’t spoken or read frequently in Maria’s home, so school and homework presented her a unique challenge. Together, Maria and Anna practice reading and writing in English, and have seen a lot of progress.

Maria loves getting to play ‘big sister’ to younger children in Anna’s care. She is exceptionally kind in school as well. When asked about her Little Sister, Anna says, “She’s very kind and caring, compassionate to others, especially the lower functioning. She feels bad for kids who don’t get invited to parties and asks them to hang out with us.” Anna tells me how Maria asks to bring other children who need extra time and attention with them. Sometimes multiple other children will show up with Maria, and Anna says there are times she has to ask for special time with her mentee so they can get the space they need to practice reading and just hang out.

“She loves structure and routine,” Anna says about Maria. “It can be hard for her to stay focused on reading sometimes, but I think she enjoys the hard work. There was one time we were hanging out and she had been doing really well with reading recently. She told me she didn’t need to read anymore.” Anna, being a teacher by trade, laughed and pointed at her stacks of books to say, “Even I need to practice so I don’t lose it. That’s why I have a summer reading list.” So Maria picked up a book and practiced reading.

When they’re not reading together or playing with younger children under Anna’s care, Anna and Maria enjoy going new places like Adventureland as well as cooking.

“Most kids are picky eaters,” says Anna. “But not Maria.” She tells me how she made Tilapia with her mentee—“Nothing fancy; I don’t eat a lot of fish or even really like it”—but Maria ate three pieces. “She loved it! Just the simple tilapia. She asked me to teach her how to bake it.” For Anna, passing on practical skills like cooking and baking is very nostalgic: “That’s what my big sister did after our mom died…having my big sister there to show me to do the holiday cookies and things like that…now I get to do that for Maria.”

Anna loves getting to be a big sister to Maria and see her experience new things. “Maria worries a lot,” Anna tells me. “She worries about her parent’s health” (Maria’s mom has a memory disability and some physical health concerns) “and things kids shouldn’t have to think about.” When the two hang out, Anna gets to calm some of Maria’s worries and fears. “She doesn’t need to think about those things. Those are adult worries. I tell her to focus on being a kid.”

Maria, now 12 years old, told Anna one time, “You’ve changed me. I used to be really behavioral at home, used to go to therapy, school was a real challenge…but I love reading now.” Anna tells me with a huge smile that “[Maria] wants to be a mentor and a foster mom when she grows up. I asked her why, and she told me she learned from the best!”

Anna adds, “She’s very intuitive. It breaks my heart to see her struggle with academics because she can’t remember very well. Maria has independently discovered apps—reading apps on her phone, like the Bible app, and she uses those. She’s really good, she wants to learn, and knows her limitations and will tell people; ‘reading is hard for me. I have dyslexia.’” Maria knows things on a more in-depth level than most kids her own age. She does a great job for advocating for herself and her needs, and that makes Anna proud to see. Anna knows she’ll go far in life with those skills.

“You see how much they struggle,” Anna says about mentoring. “But they are so kind and generous…It’s rewarding for sure, but it’s not always easy…what little you do has a ripple effect. You don’t even know how you’re impacting them, but you are.” Anna looks forward to more years with Maria reading, playing with foster kids, doing nursery, and trying new things in the kitchen. Anna has become so close with Maria and her family that they are considering getting paperwork for Anna to be Maria’s godparent.

“The world is a busy, busy place but God has given us a purpose to love others. In the end, is God gonna be more focused on our excuses of busyness, or the impact we made on others?”

Anna Wolvers runs her own business, teaches, is a foster mom and mentor, and is fundraising to build a slash pad in Marshalltown. “If I can be this busy and mentor, so can others. Your mentees will probably enjoy doing what you do, and helping others as well.”

You too can make a positive impact on a young person. Click here to find out how.