Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

November 29, 2012

Unit 40 mentor to share experience at Washington summit

Jackson Adams
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — Kim Varner is getting ready to show the nation what she’s developed in Effingham.

    Since 2000, Varner has had a key role in creating the highly successful Effingham Unit 40 Mentoring Program. In January, she’ll speak to other mentors from across the United States during the National Mentoring Summit in Washington.

    “It was kind of a personal goal of mine to speak,” Varner said. “I wrote a proposal about relationships between the mentee and the mentor, the families and the schools and the staff and the businesses.

    “I’m really excited about Washington. Let’s celebrate the children, let’s celebrate the businesses, let’s celebrate the families. The great thing about this program is that it focuses on the positives. It’s a very positive program and it’s all about strength.”

    Varner was involved with the initial set-up for the mentoring program back in 2000. She has had to deal with challenges along the way, such as preserving the program at a time when many schools were making tough fiscal cuts and finding volunteer mentors for the program. But today, it has blossomed. The program helps nearly 120 students district wide. Varner oversees the program with two others: with Central Grade School Program Facilitator Kathy Nava-Sifuentes and Effingham Junior High Program Facilitator Tammy Meinhart.

    Varner said the program, with the help of the school board and local businesses, has focused on giving students the best opportunities possible. She said the cost per student for the program is around $300.

    “I’ve been in education for 30 something years,” Varner said. “This is the program that can make a big difference for the kids for a small amount of money.

    “Studies have shown that kids need an adult relationship, whether that be with a parent, a community member, a friend or a mentor,” Varner said. “These are students that need an adult relationship,” she said. “For them, a mentor is just another friend for a few hours. We’ve had some of these mentors stay with the kids for six, seven, eight years. We have seen these kids do better. That’s really an exciting thing.”

    The mentoring program is intended to help students that as Varner said, “need a friend,” those dealing with a changing family situation or with problems at home, whether they be an incarcerated, chemically dependent, or absent parent. Varner said the mentors can be the adult to help make the difference for the students.

    “We have them actually meet the children,” she said. “They meet the children, they play games. They’re with them for for 40 minutes once a week. This is not counseling, it’s not teaching, it’s not doing homework. It’s just being a friend.”

    Varner said in the over a decade of mentoring, she’s seen the effects of a positive relationship in the mentees lives.

    “It’s helped with graduation rates and has provided encouragement in every aspect of their lives,” she said.

    Recent surveys of parents and teachers involved with the students and the program have responded positively. According to the survey, 83 percent of teachers reported improvements in students’ self-confidence and 50 percent reported improvement in students’ academic performance.

    Additionally, 73 percent of students parents or guardians reported their children had a better aptitude toward school and 83 percent reported their child had improved relationships with their peers.

    Some of that interaction between all those affected by the mentoring program will be on display during the Christmas program, a free performance of “The Best Christmas Ever” at the Effingham Performance Center at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 6. Varner said the program is a chance for families touched by the program as well as celebrating the sense of connection that the program brings to all parties.

    “I am so thankful of the families that decide to share their beautiful children,” she said. “They say, ‘sure, I’ll let my child have an adult friend.’ It’s a way for families to get involved at every level.”

    Jackson Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 131, or jackson.adams@effinghamdailynews.com.