National Mentor Month Starts with Striders

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The people of Chautauqua Striders showed their appreciation to the program’s mentors with a Mentor Recognition Dinner on January 23.

“Without our mentors, a lot of children would not be where they are today,” said Jen Swan-Leuze, the executive director of Chautauqua Striders.

The dinner was held at St. Lukes’ Episcopal Church, with a theme of reaching for the sky. Chautauqua Striders is a program that matches a child with someone who helps teach, play and helps the child grow and learn new skills.

“I was anti-social when I was in school,” said Savannah Thomas, a recent graduate and former mentee in the program. “Then I was sent to Chautauqua Striders and it changed my life. I’m more outgoing and I have my own circle of friends.”

PJ Wendel, Chautauqua County Executive, proclaimed January as National Mentoring Month. His proclamation was followed by a video put together by Roberto Castellano, showcasing the children in the program and the lives affected by Striders. Mentees from the high school and elementary school also came up to express gratitude for their mentors and their favorite things about being in Striders.

“We’re always looking for new mentors,” Swan-Leuze said. “Just a couple hours a month spent mentoring a student can have a huge, positive impact on his or her life.”
Swan-Leuze’s daughter, Hannah, and her mentor, Jamie Lee Bonfiglio-Davis performed “Count on Me,” a Bruno Mars song, for the event.

“When you become a mentor, that’s what you’re saying to a student,” Jen said. “You’re saying they can ‘count on me.’”

Along with clouds and star decorations, the walls were lined with thank-you notes from students to their mentors, also describing their favorite things about their mentors. The students in attendance at the dinner also all came up to read a poem titled “Thank You,” written by Tyeisha Crutchfield. Gideon Thompson, a mentee in the program, also performed a piece he wrote himself, entitled “Break Free.”

“When you surround yourself with the right people, when you have that light bulb moment, it’s amazing,” said Katie Castro, a guest speaker. “The right people can help you be the person you were meant to be. Partnership encourages potential.”

Castro encouraged the students listening to not hold back on their mentors. She said when mentors work their hardest to help their students, the students pay it back in ten-fold. Children are the future, she said, and Striders helps brighten that future with its program.

“You too can have big dreams and grow strong and healthy and wise and brave,” Castro said. “Mentors, your support is never wasted. Even if it takes years, your investment will pay off in these children. You all can reach for the stars.”