Jamie Hitzges, former Jackson County School System assistant superintendent and 2016/2017 board chairman for Legacy Youth Mentoring, knows the impact mentoring can have.
“It is the connection between what is and what can be,” says the volunteer mentor. “It allows the power of one person to change the trajectory of a child.”
Legacy Youth Mentoring serves Jackson County Schools, Jefferson City Schools and Commerce City Schools by providing mentors for students in grades K-12. The program began in 2004 as Lindsay’s Legacy Mentoring, named in memory of Jack Lindsay, founder of The Potter’s House in Jefferson and an advocate of youth mentoring. Executive Director Lisa Stephens has been with the organization since 2005.
“When I started out as a volunteer, I thought I’d help a year or two, but seeing the impact this had in children’s lives, I wanted to follow through,” says Stephens. “It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”
In its first year, the program served 45 students and, since 2008, has served more than 200 students annually.
Last year, 225 mentors were matched with 235 students.
For Hitzges, serving as a mentor has been payback in appreciation of one who mentored him.
“The person who changed my trajectory, my power of one, was my high school U.S. history teacher,” says Hitzges.
“I wasn’t planning on going to college, but Ms. Billings created that reality for me. She said ‘You will go to college’ and applied for a scholarship on my behalf.”
Mentor Joe Godfrey and his mentee, Aubrey, have met weekly for five years, since Aubrey was in middle school. The student says having a mentor gives him confidence to share his creative ideas and credits Joe with encouraging him to expand and sharpen those ideas.
“It helps to have a figure in my life who can teach me things I’d otherwise not talk about,” says Aubrey. “He encourages me to do well in school and take AP classes.”
In turn, Joe has gained a great friendship. “It’s exciting to see what Aubrey’s going to do next,” says the mentor.
The impact of strong relationships with adult role models leads to significant improvements in youth behavior and success rates, according to Stephens.
“Sometimes it’s hard to put a price on this,” she says.
“It’s intangible. But it can be powerful, long-term and life changing.”
Not specific to socioeconomics or academic abilities, mentoring is available for all students and meets a wide variety of immediate and long-term needs. Some students served have experienced illness, homelessness, or the death or deployment of a parent.
Legacy Youth Mentoring recruits and trains volunteer mentors. School counselors match mentors with students referred by teachers or parents; mentors meet students at school once a week for a half hour during breakfast, lunch or free time. Doing the mentoring within the school day adds safety and flexibility, according to Stephens who says most schools have a waiting list of students, especially males, in need of mentors. Many mentors continue their partnership through the student’s elementary, middle and high school years with some relationships enduring into adulthood.
Stephens expresses gratitude for the Jackson EMC Foundation.
“If it weren’t for the Foundation grants, this program would not exist,” she concludes. “We are very grateful.”