The St. Johns County Education Foundation which operates as Investing in Kids (INK!), is seeking mentors during National Mentoring Month in January, and beyond, for the Take Stock in Children® program. The program aligns with the Nation’s formal proclamation to recruit and support dedicated adults whose wisdom, guidance, and positive examples can help children follow a sound path and prepare them to succeed.
INK! has an ongoing mission to provide innovative programs and classroom resources to promote the academic success of students in the St. Johns County School District, Fla. Since 1998, INK! has been the exclusive umbrella agency for the St. Johns County Take Stock in Children® (TSIC) organization. TSIC provides low-income students with a unique opportunity to escape the cycle of poverty through mentorship, education, college success coaching, and the opportunity to earn college scholarships.
“We are seeking mentors to work with students from eighth through 12th grades,” said Donna Lueders, INK! Executive Director. “I encourage individuals to partner with us and provide new mentorship opportunities or continue their mentoring experiences,” she said. “Mentoring, at its core, confirms to young people there is someone who cares about them, assures them they are not alone in day-to-day challenges, and supports and affirms their identities and goals.”
Research from The National Partnership for Student Success confirms that quality mentoring relationships have powerful positive effects on young people in a variety of personal, academic, and professional situations. Mentoring connects a young person to personal growth and development, along with social and economic opportunity.
Students are selected for TSIC when they are in the eighth grade in St. Johns County public schools. Upon acceptance into the program, students sign a contract to maintain a minimum 2.5 grade point average (GPA), continue good behavior and attendance, and remain drug and crime free. The program is the only public-private partnership of its kind in the U.S.
Trained and supported mentors facilitate a variety of youth development and enrichment experiences, help youth explore and affirm their identity, provide navigational support around school-to-work transitions, and safeguard against adversity in-school and out of school.
Larry Dillahay is in his late 70s, and has more than seven years of experience as a mentor with TSIC. He retired in St. Augustine from a longtime career as a mechanical engineer while travelling around the world. Dillahay began mentoring while in college and during his work life and continues to work with young men from Pedro Menendez High School who have gained from his maturity, focused direction, and positive guidance. His mentoring of five boys at the high school has included a diverse group from many different cultures and home environments. Three of the boys have continued onto higher education, and two are currently in school.
“I look forward to my weekly meetings at school with the boys, usually during lunchtime. I have a prepared topic or a specific discussion with each of them, or I’ll just talk about what they want to say,” said Dillahay. “I highly recommend the mentoring experience for an adult professional, volunteer, or retiree. We can make a change in the lives of at-risk youth by simply being there and listening while sharing positive conversations and direction, plus knowledge gained from careers, travel, experiences, and more,” he said. Dillahay added that TSIC has a prepared program that trains and helps mentors learn how to properly communicate with mentees. He will continue to mentor and volunteer well into his 80s for local nonprofits while helping men, women, and children in need.
Molly Kushner is also a TSIC mentor in her 70s, and for more than three years she has worked with female students at Allen D. Nease High School and Beachside High Schools. “The experience has supported my dedication to working with girls and helping them with their studies, along with listening to them about their social and home lives,” said Kushner. “Many of these youngsters face the typical teenage challenges of adolescence with school, friends, and family. I am a good sounding board for them and most of the time, I just listen and try to advise them based on my experiences as a former business executive, and most importantly, as a grandmother,” she said. Kushner will continue to mentor with TSIC and volunteer in the community. She resides in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
“Young people who are facing life challenges and have mentors are more likely to aspire to attend and enroll in college, participate in sports and other extracurricular activities, and take on leadership roles in school and extracurricular activities, along with volunteerism in their communities,” said Jim Wheeler, INK! Director of Operations and Students Programs. “I urge qualified individuals, local employers and retired professionals to offer a role in helping the next generation of Americans achieve their dreams,” he said.
For more information about the Take Stock in Children program and to apply to be a mentor, visit the Take Stock in Children program page or contact Jim Wheeler at (904) 547-7121 or Ja***********@st*****.us.
Pictured left to right TSIC graduate Jaiwan Hutchinson, Mentor Larry Dillahay, and TSIC graduate Hunter Hamilton at the Class of 2022 Take Stock in Children St. Johns County Graduation.
Pictured left to right Mrs. Stallings, 2022 TSIC Graduate Amy Stallings, and TSIC Mentor Molly Kushner at the 2022 Take Stock in Children St. Johns County graduation ceremony.