By Beau Brockett

Contributing writer

An after-school program providing mentoring services, hot meals and group activities to sixth-grade Elkhorn Middle School students started recently. 

Participating students in Mentors and Meals are bused to an off-site center after classes. There, they work with a high school, college or community mentor on their schoolwork.

After the mentoring period, students have the chance to play, take a trip to a local destination or listen to a community speaker. A hot meal caps off the two-hour program.

“Mentors and Meals — Franklin County” resulted from EMS Assistant Principal Cassandra Adams’ goal of strengthening the school’s community ties.

She soon found that many children need a place to go after school, a mentor to help with classes and a warm dinner.

An EMS grandparent connected Adams with Lisa Johnson, executive director of Mentors and Meals. The program offered a way to address the needs of students while strengthening community ties by bringing in volunteer mentors from the community, Adams said.

Adams asked sixth-grade social studies teacher Christy Sapp, whose rapport with the kids is “amazing,” to start up and coordinate the program for the eastside middle school.

“Not only does she know what they need at the sixth-grade level, she takes the time to know what our kids are challenged with outside our building, and she finds ways to work with them to be successful in the classroom,” Adams said.

Mentors and Meals is an extension of Woodford County’s own nonprofit group of the same name.

Earlier this month, 30 middle-schoolers walked into Versailles’ First Christian Life Center after school and sat at tables color-coded based on the school subjects they most work on. Then, 16 high school and community mentors who specialized in one of the subjects sat down with the students and began to help.

After 30 minutes, students finished with their school work could go to an adjacent room and listen to Woodford County High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance members speak about the importance of kindness.

Volunteers then served the students potato soup and grilled-cheese sandwiches with jello for dessert.

Johnson, executive director of Mentors and Meals, started the Woodford County program in 2011. Her organization has since helped about 420 of 600 participating Woodford students receive a “C” or better in their four core school subjects.

The program was awarded the Trailblazer Volunteer Station of the Year by the United Way of the Bluegrass in 2011 and 2012. The program has since moved onto Clark, Scott and, now, Franklin counties.

Johnson wants to make Sapp’s transition into the Mentors and Meals program as smooth as possible. “It’s overwhelming when you first start,” she said.

More than two dozen sixth-graders have signed up for Mentors & Meals — Franklin County. With food donated by the Salvation Army and a few volunteers ready to help, the program occurs on Mondays.

Adams considers this academic semester of the Mentors and Meals program a “pilot phase.” If the program is successful, the school may extend the program to Wednesdays and to those in the other two grades. The students, Sapp said, are already asking for additional days.

Before days are added, though, Sapp needs more volunteers. Aside from a background check, all a mentor needs is to be a positive role model and have the “heart” to help.

Sapp said she already knows the participating sixth-graders, so once she gets to know the mentors, she can match students to mentors who best fit academic needs and learning styles. No more than two students will be paired with one mentor.

Stella Adams is a mentor for Woodford County’s Mentors and Meals. She started mentoring in high school to help meet an organization’s community service requirements. Now a college graduate, she’s come back to mentor because she enjoys helping the kids.

It’s her daily goal to help her mentees appreciate school a bit more. She hopes to leave a large enough impression on them that they remember her name each day.

Adams offers future mentors two insights: “Middle schoolers can be brutal” and “Just talk to them like people, even if they don’t want to talk to you.”

If citizens are unable to mentor, volunteers also are needed to prepare meals, chaperone trips and speak on community issues. Sapp is also seeking an assistant who could help prepare Mentors and Meals as Sapp finishes classwork.

“What is it? ‘Field of Dreams? If you build it, they will come.’ That’s what we’re shooting for,” said Sapp. “The kids are coming. Now we need the volunteers.”

Interested persons can contact Sapp at christy.sapp@franklin.kyschools.us.

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