Lisa Loegering, assistant director for service learning on the Crookston campus, says youth who come to campus with their mentors start thinking of college as attainable.
Mentor for mentors
Service learning opens doors of U campus to Crookston youth
By Stephanie Wilkes
Brief, March 7, 2007
When Lisa Loegering moved from Oregon to Crookston six years ago, she got involved in volunteer work right away. She volunteered for Meals on Wheels and joined the board of Crookston VolunTEAM, a volunteer clearinghouse through Service Learning Office at the University of Minnesota-Crookston (UMC) north of town. When she was hired as UMC's assistant director of service learning, Loegering's volunteer and work lives came together.
One of Loegering's duties has been holding semi-annual community dialogues, where all of Crookston's nonprofits meet to create a list of community needs and wants. Ideas generated there often become part of UMC service-learning courses or are integrated into an annual orientation event, Meet Crookston Through Service.
"One thing that kept coming up year after year was the need for a mentoring program," says Loegering. But an effective mentoring program wouldn't fit into UMC's normal service-learning framework.
The Service Learning Office--dedicated to providing UMC students with the chance to apply themselves in the community--set out to find a way to make a mentoring program work. Research on available mentors and mentee referral agencies was done in 2003 by UMC student Tiffany Anderson on a Minnesota Campus Compact Fellowship.
Everyone deserves a mentor, says Loegering. "Giving...kids in the community the opportunity to see what is available to them is extremely important."In fall 2004, UMC Mentoring and Caring was launched, connecting 15 UMC student mentors with children in Crookston. By fall 2006, the number of mentors had doubled.
Polk County Social Services is the referral agency for the program. Initial funding came from the Otto Bremer Foundation. Loegering wrote the grant proposal; three years later, she's responsible for a host of activities.
For the Mentoring and Caring program, Loegering maintains the relationship with Polk County Social Services. She e-mails them weekly and meets every few months with a liaison to review mentee applications. She keeps gift certificates, activity coupons, and craft supplies in stock to reimburse mentors for their expenses. She keeps in touch with the UMC student activities and athletic directors to make sure mentees can come to campus events with their mentors free of charge. But her main responsibility for Mentoring and Caring is training and staying in contact with the mentors themselves.
Mentoring the mentors
UMC student mentors attend an initial training session, for which Loegering brings in professionals from Northwest Mental Health and Polk County Social Services. After matches are made, she meets weekly with the mentors to address issues they may be facing. She works with them daily if they have questions or concerns.
"If we have a lot of mentees who have Attention Deficit Disorder or who are autistic and it seems to be affecting quite a few of the mentors," she says, "we will bring in a special speaker from the University or from social services to address those topics."
In fact, a number of autistic children are mentored successfully through the program.
UMC junior Josiah Loll, right, and one of his mentees, Alex Mazzucco. Since his freshman year, Loll has mentored several youth. Photo by Jim Irrgang.
Josiah Loll, a junior in agricultural business, has been mentoring since he was a freshman. This year, he began to mentor a nonverbal, autistic boy. Loegering cautioned Loll about difficulties he might face. When he came into the office a few weeks later, she assumed he wanted to ask for a different mentee.
"He said, 'I think I want another mentee,'" she remembers. "I started to tell him that I understood...that it couldn't have been easy, and that I would be happy to find him a different mentee. He stopped me and said, 'No, I really like the mentee I have now. I just think I want another one, too."
Loll now mentors two teens, 13 and 16, and participates in activities like bowling, swimming, and playing video games. He continues to have positive experiences with his mentees and their families. He sees Mentoring and Caring as an asset for Crookston. Loll knows the importance of a good role model in every child's life and also knows the experience will benefit him personally later in life, as a father.
He cites Loegering's guidance and dedication to the program as important to his experience.
"She is always there with suggestions of activities that I can go to with my mentees," says Loll. "She has been really good at matching up mentees with mentors, and she has excellent advice about how to handle situations that may arise."
Loegering believes everyone deserves a mentor. She also believes children in the Crookston community can benefit from the experience, which gets them on campus and allows them to start thinking about postsecondary education as attainable.
"[Crookston has] many children going through lots of different struggles," says Loegering. "Their families' first priority for their children may not be a college education when they are worried about paying the bills and putting food on the table.
"Giving those kids in the community the opportunity to see what is available to them is extremely important," Loegering says. "The University has resources that we can share, and when we do, it can be a very wonderful thing for the community and for our students."
Stephanie Wilkes is a junior in English and linguistics and a communications intern in the Office for Public Engagement. If you have questions or comments, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.