Thanks to an innovative partnership between Zeeland Public Schools and the Kids Hope mentoring program, at-risk kids receive more than just extra help with their homework. They build strong relationships with caring mentors from Ottawa Reformed Church that last a lifetime.
“You want to make a difference,” said Minnie Dewitt, Kids Hope mentor.
More than 20 years ago, the program was established using the “One” model: “One child. One hour. One church. One school.” Once proven successful, the model has grown considerably and spread from three pilot churches to more than 1,000.
“Churches are filled with people who are willing to volunteer, who love kids, and are willing to invest time,” said David Staal, president of Kids Hope.
Roosevelt Elementary School Principal Judy Tuttle said Kids Hope provides the school with 40 mentors every year.
“There has always been a strong connection between the schools and churches, but the focus has never been on religion,” Tuttle said. “It may be kids that just need a little extra help with homework. It may be students who just need a friend, and need someone to talk to.”
“It’s first and foremost just showing up, being that friend and being the one that will listen and ask questions,” said Lori Geerts, Kids Hope mentor. “It’s such a key thing in anybody’s life, but especially in a child’s life.”
The program provides support for classroom teachers by lending a helping hand to ensure that every student is given one-on-one, positive attention from a trained, responsible and caring adult.
Kids Hope was founded locally but has since expanded throughout the United States. More than 16,000 children in 34 states have been impacted by this powerful partnership of schools and trained mentors.
Mentors are taught how to ask students questions that will challenge them in their learning and teach them how to interact socially. The relationship goes beyond helping with a student’s homework. They are there to listen and support children who are struggling with friends or family and let them know that someone really does care.
“We gain just as much as they do,” Dewitt said.
The students often develop deep relationships with their mentors and are excited to get together for one hour each week. Students’ lives are being impacted in a positive way, as they improve in school and develop loving relationships with their mentors.
It’s about giving kids a “consistent, reliable, loving, adult relationship in their lives,” Staal said.
“The ranch has opened up such creativity for our teachers. We can start to think of different ideas for putting our curriculum into practice. Teachers kind of get to be kids again!” —Danielle Snoeyink, Rose Park Elementary School Teacher
“Volunteering honors Martin Luther King Jr. because he said anybody can be great because anybody can serve. It show our part by serving the community.” —Evan, GHAPS student