“Thank You For Helping Us Grow”: Chautauqua Striders Celebrates Mentoring Volunteers

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Pictured from left are Erika Muecke, Chautauqua Striders director of mentoring and advocacy; Assemblyman Andy Goodell; and Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist. (Photo Credit: Jordin Lynn Photography)

Contributing Writer
Katrina Fuller

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church was filled with laughter, song and kind words of thanks on Thursday night as Chautauqua Striders hosted their annual Mentor Recognition Dinner.

January is National Mentoring Month, and Striders gathered their mentors, funders, mentees, and staff to celebrate the volunteers who make the mentoring program possible. This year’s event focused on the theme of growth, incorporating succulents and plants into the dinner to signify mentors’ commitment to the growth of their mentees. Performances were given by participants in the mentoring program, including a song performed by Patience and Eve Sprague, a speech by Hermione Santiago-Cruz and a poem read by Emma Couse.

Chautauqua Striders Executive Director Jen Swan-Leuze opened the program, thanking the mentors for the time and dedication they have given to the mentoring program.

“It’s a pleasure to honor all of our mentors tonight and express our gratitude for the time that you dedicate to this program,” she said. “You decided to make time for this work. We always have a choice of how we spend our time, and you’ve shown that you are dedicated and committed to making a difference as a mentor. I want you to know that I recognize and appreciate that you have chosen to spend your time with the youth in our community – please know that what you do makes a difference.”

Erika Muecke, Director of Mentoring and Advocacy, commended the mentors for their flexibility in finding what each mentee needs at a given time and providing the support and comfort that is needed.

“Plants need different things – they need sunshine, but they also need rain. You are so many different things to your mentees – sometimes, you are just that person who sits and listens and lets them talk,” Muecke said. “Other times, you are the one that is giving advice or taking them somewhere to visit a college or looking into a job they might be interested in. Sometimes, you are the person who has to say, ‘Hey, get your act together.’”

Muecke thanked the mentors for all the time and effort they invest in their mentees, as well as for recognizing their differences and supporting their various needs.

“I appreciate the differences and all the ways that you come around your mentees and give them what they need at any given time,” she said. “I really appreciate the inter-generational connections and how we’re all getting to know each other and making our community stronger.”

Muecke added a special thanks to The Capacity Lab, Southern Chautauqua Federal Credit Union, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Julia’s Balloon Décor, Jordin Lynn Photography and Studio D Catering for making the event possible.

County Executive PJ Wendel declared the month of January as Mentoring Recognition Month in Chautauqua County and encouraged all residents to recognize the mentors who make a difference in the lives of youth across the area. He also asked that residents consider becoming a mentor themselves.

“To all of the mentors, thank you so much for all you do and the lives you impact,” Wendel said.

Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist said he was glad to be included in the celebration, as his first job as a teen was as a tutor at Chautauqua Striders.

“This is truly a wonderful opportunity to celebrate all the things you do and all the incredible work that you do with our kids here in Jamestown,” Sundquist said.

Chautauqua County Sheriff Jim Quattrone spoke during the event, sharing that he has been mentored all through his life by various people in many different situations. He said he values those relationships and knows that Chautauqua Striders’ mentors are making a difference every day in their mentees’ lives.

“As a mentor and as a mentee, we have to focus on hope,” Quattrone said. “We’ve got to learn from the past, know where we are in the present, and have something to look forward to in the future. That’s what I believe is the role of a mentor – it’s to encourage that hope.”

State Assemblyman Andy Goodell also offered remarks, asking how many mentors in the room had been mentored themselves.

“My hand is up because, throughout my life, I’ve had people who looked out for me,” Goodell said. “Who helped mentor me – whether it was in high school growing up, in my church, people I still remember decades after they’re no longer here, my first job … or going to the Assembly and having a mentor there, Joe Giglio. As someone who has been mentored their entire life, I can tell you firsthand how incredibly valuable it is to have a mentor in your life.”

Goodell said he felt “honored” to be included in the event and to be among the mentors who are making a difference in students’ lives.

“Those people will look back and in their own quiet way, they will say ‘Thank you,’” he said.

Lisa Vanstrom, local legislator, and representative of State Sen. George Borrello also offered words of thanks to the mentors.

“I want to first and foremost thank the volunteers for sharing their time, expertise and concern in molding and growing the young minds in our community,” Vanstrom said. “That’s what this is about.”

The Chautauqua Striders Mentoring Program is funded by the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation; Cummins Jamestown Engine Plant; Holmberg Foundation; Hultquist Foundation; Jessie Smith Darrah Fund; Lenna Foundation; National Fuel Foundation; Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation; and the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County. School districts across the county partner with the mentoring program, including Jamestown Public Schools, Southwestern Central Schools, Bemus Point Central Schools, Falconer Central Schools and Frewsburg Central Schools.

Chautauqua Striders is accepting applications for mentors in both school-based and community-based mentoring. For more information or to apply, visit www.chqstriders.org or email erika@chqstriders.org.