Pay it forward

Laura Schoff, a then 36-year-old single and successful sales executive was walking down 56thstreet in Manhattan one day. On the corner was 11-year-old Maurice Mazyck, a homeless panhandler begging for change. Like every other busy New Yorker, she paid no attention to the young boy.

However, something in Laura changed in an instant. She turned around and briskly walked back to the street corner where the hollow-eyed Maurice was standing. She told him that she wasn’t going to give him any money, but she would take him to lunch at McDonald’s.

After their first initial meeting, they met every Monday for the next four years and hundreds of times after that. They remain close after 25 years.

What would you do in that very same situation if you were in Laura’s shoes? Would you give the spare change you have in your pocket and keep going? Would you walk on by and not give a second thought about it?

Mentors like Schoffhave the power to keep kids on the right path and help them with tough situations, according to officials from Mentor, the largest mentoring program in the United States for the last 20 years.

And it happens in Castleton every year.

            “I am a camp counselor for diabetic kids and it really is the only job I’ve ever liked,” said Castleton State College freshman Connor McHugh. “So when I heard I could do it here, I kinda jumped on the opportunity.”

             Having a responsible college-agedmentor shows that staying positive, playing sports and staying in school is beneficial. It gives them the motivation to stay out of trouble and do well, said Corrie Keener, co-cordinator of the mentor program at CSC.

“They see that college students come see them once a week, that college isn’t a bad thing,” said Keener.  

It is a bond that many kids don’t have with anyone else, according to Castleton Elementary School Principal Eloise Ginty.

“The effect of a positive role model is very inspiring to the elementary kids because it’s one to one,” said Ginty. “Each student has their own individual mentor.”

CSC students agree.

            “It builds that relationship,” said Alec Alspach, co-coordinator of the Castleton program. “It’s a big brother, little brother type of relationship.”

Alspach is in his 3rdyear mentoring. He said he heard it was a great program when he was in his freshman year and how great of an opportunity it was. 

            “It’s nice to make a child happy,” said Ethan Smith, sophomore. “I had a mentor when I was younger and it is a positive influence.”

The magical mentor wizard who put this whole program together is Jan Rousse. It started seven years ago when Rousse and the then new principle at the elementary school met at a conference. She told Rousse how much bullying was going on during recess and the school day.

            “I never thought that would take place in my town,” said Rousse seemingshocked.

The program started mainly in the athletic department, but was so popular it was opened to everyone.

            “The mentee wants to be their mentor. They will eventually start to dress alike, their style begins to look like their mentors,” said Rousse fondly. “I’ve seen it happen.”

            Castleton graduate Dana Pulkinen and her mentee, Johanna Morse, bonded the first second they met. According to Pulkinen, within the first month of being a mentor, a teacher asked if they were related.

            “We would wear identical outfits without even planning it. It was at a point where she didn’t even have a cell phone so coordinating wasn’t actually possible,” said Pulkinen.

            Rousse said that building trust between mentor-to-mentor is extremely important. She also said breaking that bond too soon, breaks the mentees hearts.

            “The mentees hearts are crying,” Rousse said sadly, recalling times when the mentor didn’t follow through

Having a mentor, she said,guarantees to a child or young person that someone cares about them. It shows them that they are not alone.

“If I couldn’t stay in contact with her, we both would be really upset,” said Pulkinen. “We formed such a great relationship over such a short amount of time.”

Ashley Haggerty, who helps Rousse out with the program, agrees that the more they work with them, the more the mentees look up to their mentors.

“She’s so smiley and happy,” said Keener smiling broadly thinking about her mentee. “She’s like my little nugget.”  

            “It is definitely something they remember later in life,” said Ginty. “Hopefully this will inspire them to go to college. This could be the thing that gets them inspired.”

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