LA CROSSE, Wis. - A smiling face and a warm hello are two ingredients being used to build a new friendship in the cafeteria at Hamilton Elementary.
Hamilton fifth-grader Jade Oyer and Gundersen Health System employee Nancy Noelke are meeting each other for the first time over breakfast.
“I was scared at first, but then I was excited,” said Oyer.
This relationship is one of 38 being formed through a new mentorship program offered by Gundersen's Global Partners
“Any employee at Gundersen was invited to consider being a mentor at Hamilton, and it really drew me in,” said Noelke.
Global Partners inspires volunteerism to help fill a need in different communities. The organization learned of Hamilton's desire for student mentors and wanted to help.
“So, if we're looking to improve the health of our community, a really easy and kind of obvious way is to invest in the education of our youth,” said Liz Arnold, administrative director for Global Partners.
And research shows mentored youth do significantly better than non-mentored youth in a number of outcomes, including fewer depressive symptoms and more positive beliefs about their ability to succeed in school.
“And that's really our mission for Hamilton as well that we can engage volunteers in a meaningful way in relationship with these students to really change the trajectory for these students,” said Arnold.
The volunteers will meet with kids once or twice a week as the students enter the building for breakfast.
“What student wouldn't need a mentor or what student couldn't use a smiling face to greet them at school to give their undivided attention during their breakfast time and to see their day off well,” said Steve Michaels, Hamilton/SOTA I principal. “That's something any kid could use.”
Something else any student could use, a caring adult with a good set of listening ears.
“We're not trying to fix problems,” said Noelke. “We're not trying to be anything other than just be an adult in their life that is interested, curious and that wants to spend time with them.”
It's a simple recipe that could lead to a student's future health and success.
“Health care is no longer defined just by providing services within our four walls,” said Arnold. “It's really about building effective partnerships in the community that can impact things like education and environment and the healthy relationships that someone has.”
“Whatever relationship is built, I just know that I'm going to enjoy the experience, and I hope Jade does, too,” said Noelke. “I think we're off to a good start.”
The pilot program began this month.
Mentors have committed to volunteer until the end of the school year, which is June 1 in the La Crosse School District
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