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Reporter has found working with a second-grader to be a rewarding experience

When I moved back to Fort Dodge last summer after nearly a decade away, going to college and living halfway across the country, I wanted to find ways to be active in the community here.

A lot had changed in the last 10 years and I was seeing my hometown in a whole new light. To be honest, it was a little overwhelming trying to decide what groups or organizations I wanted to get involved in, figuring out how much time or money I could dedicate to it and trying to get my foot in the door.

It wasn’t long before the perfect opportunity to give back to my community and make a difference in someone else’s life fell into my lap.

When my editor assigned me a story on the BRIDGES mentorship program through the Fort Dodge Community School District, I had never heard of it. It’s been around nearly as long as I’ve been alive and although I spent all my years in school, kindergarten through high school graduation, in Fort Dodge schools, I knew nothing about it.

As I sat in the office of Corey Moody, coordinator for the BRIDGES program, for our interview where we talked about the program’s shortage of mentors, it hit me like a load of bricks – I should apply to be a mentor.

Shortly after my story was published in The Messenger, I gave Moody my application to be a mentor and he matched me with a second-grader at Butler Elementary School.

Since October, I’ve spent nearly every Friday afternoon visiting Bentleigh at Butler. I’ll go into the school’s office and check in, and Bentleigh and I will usually go hang out in the library for an hour.

Bentleigh and I have gotten to know each other over games of “War” with a deck of cards and through chatting while we color pages from a coloring book. Sometimes, we’ll each start a coloring page and then trade halfway, finishing the other’s page.

As a mentor, I am not Bentleigh’s teacher and I’m not a counselor – I’m just a friend she can talk to if she wants and someone she can look up to. We talk about how her week went, what she’s looking forward to for the weekend. I ask her about what she’s learning in class and I tell her about some of the fun stories I get to cover as a Messenger reporter.

I love being a mentor because I can see myself in this little girl. Looking back, I definitely could have used a mentor like me when I was her age, and I feel privileged to be able to be a role model for her and someone she can confide in. And I hope that I’m setting a good example for her as a mentor and leave a good enough impression so that when she’s older, she’ll want to be a mentor, too.

I may have applied to be a mentor wanting to help a student, but this mentorship is helping me just as much. Throughout this school year, Fridays have been my favorite day of the week, because that was the day I’d go visit Bentleigh.

These last two months have been tough, with social distancing and school closures. I’ve been writing letters to Bentleigh to let her know that I’m still here if she needs another person to talk to. Last week, I had so much fun putting together a care package for her.

I look forward to being Bentleigh’s mentor for as long as she wants me to keep visiting. When I wrote my first story on the BRIDGES program, I interviewed a high school student and mentor who have been together since the student was in third grade. I hope that’s what happens with me and Bentleigh.

I encourage you, the reader, to apply to be a mentor with BRIDGES. Being a mentor is so rewarding and it’s such a small time commitment – just one hour a week. That’s a lunch break once or twice a week.

Be the mentor and role model you wish you had when you were growing up.

To apply to be a mentor with the BRIDGES program, or for more information, email Corey Moody at cmoody@fdschools.org.

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