Lanterns mentors get back as much as they give

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Hebron - posted Thu., Feb. 14, 2013
Charles Daniels plays Stratego with his sixth-grade partner from the AHM Lanterns mentoring program. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Charles Daniels plays Stratego with his sixth-grade partner from the AHM Lanterns mentoring program. Photos by Melanie Savage.

Carolyn Aubin and K (children’s names withheld due to privacy guidelines), a fifth-grader at Hebron Elementary School, would have preferred to spend their lunchtime outside. But, because it was just 28 degrees the afternoon of Feb. 4, they were stuck indoors for the day. Aubin and K have been together since K was in the second grade, when the two were paired up by the AHM (Andover, Hebron, Marlborough) Lanterns Mentoring Program. The program brings local students together with adult mentors once per week, where they spend lunchtime together exploring shared interests.

“Most of the time, we go outside on the nature trail,” said Aubin. Over the years, the pair has spent many hours on the trail behind the school, discovering flora and fauna which are often shared with K’s classmates. “I’d have to say that K is somewhat of a hero in his class,” said Aubin. There have been crayfish and lady bugs, newts and chrysalides, many of which were brought into the classroom, for a time, before being released again into the wild.

A particular favorite was a newly-hatched eastern painted turtle. Aubin pulls up a digital photograph of a smiling K holding a critter keeper with a tiny, quarter-sized turtle resting on a bed of mud and leaves inside. The name “Sheldon” is written in large block letters on the outside of the tank. “It was very, very hard for K to let the turtle go again,” said Aubin. A look at the boy’s emotional face confirms that this was the case.

Asked whether he enjoys getting together with his mentor, the boy responds shyly. “Yes,” he says, a smile lighting up his downturned face. K is working on a Legos structure. He is an absolute wizard with Legos, says Aubin, and would probably make a fine engineer. But as much as he enjoys the Legos, K said he prefers the time that he and Aubin spend outside. They are both anxious for spring to bring warmer weather so that they can return to exploring the brook behind the school.

Aubin said she was drawn to the mentoring program as her own three boys grew older and needed her less (she currently has two in college, and one college graduate living in Boston). “I thought it would be fun,” she said. "And I’m so glad I did sign on, because we’ve been good friends ever since. It’s about having a friend who is always there for you.”

Charles Daniels and his friend K, a sixth-grader at Hebron Elementary, were also spending their time together inside by necessity, rather than by choice. After K finished his lunch, the two began a game of Stratego. “We like to go outside when we can,” said Daniels.

K is a sports fan. He plays sports and likes to get in practice whenever he can. “Football, basketball, kickball, baseball, we pretty much just like to play sports,” said K.

Daniels said he got involved with Lanterns after seeing a presentation on the program. He believes in getting involved with his community. “It’s aggravates me when I’m standing in line somewhere and I hear people complaining and they’re not doing anything about it,” he said. “I believe in getting involved. There are so many opportunities to get involved.”

K said he appreciates his friendship with Daniels. “We get to hang out a lot,” he said. “He’s sort of like a dad to me, since my dad passed away. Or a big brother. He’s kind of like a big brother to me.” Daniels said that K’s mother and grandparents are very involved and supportive. “But my grandparents are older,” said K.

Hanging out with a younger male mentor gives K a different kind of relationship than he gets anyplace else. Daniels isn’t there to talk about grades or punish K for getting in trouble. “He has parents and teachers for all that stuff,” said Daniels.

There are currently numerous adults involved in the AHM program, including pairs at Hebron Elementary, Gilead Hill, RHAM Middle School, RHAM High School, and Andover and Marlborough elementary schools. But there are more children in need. “There are children who would definitely benefit from a mentor, but there just aren’t many adults at the moment,” said Laurie Larsen, the Lanterns program coordinator. There is especially a need for male mentors, and mentors in the towns of Andover and Marlborough. The program is strictly school-based; contact information is not exchanged, and pairs meet exclusively during lunch periods at the schools. The time commitment is generally just one hour per week. Preparation is limited to a two-hour training session, a background check and a reference check. Larsen always accompanies mentors to their first meeting to help ease the transition. “And I’m always available,” she said. “If they have any questions, they can always contact me.”

But while the time commitment is small, the benefits can be quite large. “The research has proven that just that one hour of one-on-one attention can make a huge difference,” said Larsen. According to a Lanterns pamphlet, youth who are matched with a mentor “demonstrate improved academic performance, improved peer/family relationships, increased communication skills, decreased drug use, and improved school attendance.”

Relationships begun through the Lanterns program have endured beyond the college years. Currently, Daniels and K are beginning to plan their transition next year to the middle school. For K, the move opens up a new world of sports-related opportunities. “There’s the track over there,” he said, “and the football field. There are basketball courts. And there’s the skate park across the street.” From Daniels' perspective, the Lanterns program is definitely a two-way street. "You get a lot out of it," he said. "I think, if you ask most of the mentors, they'll say they go into this wanting to help out, but most people get a lot out of it themselves."

For more information about the AHM Lanterns mentoring program, contact Laurie Larsen at 860-228-0871 or Larsen plans to hold a training session for new mentors in the near future.

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