It’s a new year, and United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN) is hitting the ground running by piloting a new program to mentor elementary-age children in its service area.
The Lunch Buddies mentoring program seeks to pair elementary students who could benefit from additional support and encouragement with a volunteer adult mentor, based on shared interests and other factors, to spend a lunch period together once a week. Participating students will be referred by school staff, and volunteer mentors will be screened through an application, interview, and background check.
The program will be piloted for the remainder of the school year in Hibbing, where school staff have estimated that more than 30 percent of their school population could benefit from a program like this. For the pilot program, Lunch Buddies will focus specifically on first-grade students at Greenhaven and Washington elementary schools in Hibbing, though the goal is to expand the program to other grades and schools in the future, pending the success of the pilot.
St. Louis County probation had originally approached UWNEMN to discuss mentoring for at-risk teens. Additional youth-focused groups including Hibbing Kinship Mentoring, LSS Family Resource Center, Mesabi Family YMCA, and others were brought in, and existing mentor programs like Mentor Duluth, Mentor Minnesota, and Kinship, Inc. were consulted. The group determined that a Lunch Buddy program with elementary students, similar to Kinship, Inc.’s model, seemed the best way to approach mentoring on the Iron Range.
“While we continue to discuss ideas for working with at-risk teens, the group felt mentoring students when they are still quite young was the most proactive approach we could take,” UWNEMN Executive Director Shelley Valentini said. “Furthermore, a program like Lunch Buddies that is structured around the school’s lunch schedule seemed the best way to ‘test the waters’ and gauge the interest level of adult mentors in our area.”
Mentor Minnesota has consulted throughout the formation of the Lunch Buddies program, guiding in the program’s structure and helping to develop the program’s applications and materials. They strongly advised to set the Lunch Buddy schedule to one lunch period each week as it best allows time for mentors and mentees to build relationships – and for students to feel the relationships are stable.
Lunch Buddies will meet Mondays at Greenhaven and Tuesdays at Washington Elementary from March 2 – May 19. The deadline for interested volunteers to apply is January 31. For more information, click here.