Volunteers for Youth Mentor Mendy Stone sits with her mentee Brenna Christy at Will Rogers Junior High, learning to knit and talking about life.

Over the course of 20 years, Rogers County Volunteers for Youth’s Positive Adult Leadership (PAL) program has provided mentorship services to over 2,500 students.

The 2018-19 school year was a continuation of that legacy, with 194 students served.

PAL Mentoring Project Director Celina Davis spoke about the value and successes of the program, and also the areas where they need more help in order to be most effective.

Kindergarten through 12th grade students at all the schools in Rogers County are referred to the mentorship program by their school counselors for emotional, behavioral or academic issues.

“Some are referred because they are being raised by a single parent or grandparent, others because one or both of their parents are incarcerated, another because they are struggling socially,” Davis said, “but all need that one extra caring adult in their lives for just one hour per week that is there for only them - to encourage them, to listen to them, to be that extra person to get them through that tough spot.”

Of the students that were partnered with a mentor this year, 50 were kindergarten through fifth grade, 118 were sixth through eighth grade, and 26 were ninth through 12th grade.

“With all races and ethnicities served, nearly half of those students are Native American,” Davis said.

Male students more than doubled female students, 137 to 57.

In order to track the impact of the program, directors conducted an end-of-the-year teacher and counselor survey.

Of the students where these areas were of issue: 38 percent improved their grade point average; 77 percent had improvement in their overall attitude; 77 percent showed improvement in their self-esteem; 54 percent demonstrated improved motivation; 41 percent improved in the area of responsibility; 58 percent had improved classroom behavior; 67 percent had improved relationships with peers; 47 percent increased their classroom participation; 45 percent showed improved respect toward their teachers; 58 percent showed indications of improved self-confidence; 38 percent improved their study habits; 26 percent showed improved attendance and 56 percent had fewer referrals to the office.

Included in the survey was an area for teachers, counselors and parents to share their thoughts on the program.

One teacher wrote, "my student looked forward to his meeting with his PAL each week. His whole attitude changed when he would remember his PAL was coming. He benefitted from his PAL greatly."

A school counselor said, "There was tremendous transformation in [student's] self esteem and her relationship to her peers once she entered the mentoring program this school year! It was great to witness the transformation from a girl who was not confident in herself and had some unhealthy friendships, to a girl that made the choice to step away from some unhealthy friendships and make friends that would lift her up and encourage her."

There was also a single mother struggling with a son who had ADHD, no respect for female authority, and no strong male role models in his life.

She said, “He was excited to have a male role model, tickled pink, enthused that he had someone who cared and wanted to sit down and talk to him; was willing to listen and take their advice."

“If he had not been in [PAL] he would have gotten into a lot more trouble,” she said. “His mentor helped keep him on right path."

By the end of the school year in May, Davis said at least 22 new students needing a mentor have been identified, and more volunteers will be needed before school resumes in late August.

“As you can imagine per the previous year's demographics, there is a vast range currently waiting for someone,” Davis said. “But more than the demographics and statistics is that these are our children of our communities. They all have a story. They all have their own, current, specific struggle.”

How to Support PAL

Individuals can support the PAL program by volunteering as a mentor or by participating in an upcoming fundraiser.

“PAL mentors are recruited from all areas of the Rogers County community: business, industrial, academic, government, law enforcement, faith and retirees,” Davis said. “Mentors go through a screening process and a training. Once the mentors are ready, they are then carefully matched with a student or placed in a group mentoring situation where they will have the best chance to make a difference.”

“We are always in need of adult male mentors,” Davis said, as the majority of students in the program are young men who could benefit from a strong male role model.

In addition to giving time, Volunteers for Youth is also looking for participants in their annual Smoking Hot 100 golf marathon fundraiser, July 22.

“If someone doesn't want to golf in the marathon yet simply wants to donate on behalf and in support of one of our teams, we're happy to accept their pledge and support,” Davis said. “We are a tax deductible organization for those that this may find helpful.”