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Investing In The Future

August 3, 2014, 10:05 PM by Sammi Bjelland

Investing In The Future

There are many kids in America today lacking a sense of hope for the future. A recent Gallop Poll shows 34 percent believe they are not thriving.

A mentorship program in the Sioux Falls area aims to change that, and you can help.

One hour a week. That's all it takes to be a mentor through Lutheran Social Services in Sioux Falls.
Right now, the program is in need of a lot more mentors.

"We recently surveyed the schools that we work with and there are over 500 kids on the waiting list to want or need a mentor," Director of Mentoring Services for LSS, Michelle Madsen said. 

Even though it doesn't take much time to be a mentor, the work volunteers do for these kids is life changing.

"Mentored students are more likely to enroll in college. More likely to get better grades. It helps with school attendance. Reduces some behavior issues that the student might be having. But most of all it just shows the kids that the community cares about them and that someone is willing to give their time for that child," Madsen said. 

One of those young people is Hajrije Mustafa, a junior at Washington High School. She's been with her mentor, Anny Libengood, for about 2 years now.

"I have a really nice best friend. She listens to everything that I say. She gives me good advice. She's always there for me. It's just a wonderful experience," Mustafa said. 

Both ladies say they weren't sure what to expect, but have a lot more in common than they anticipated.

"We do anything from just hanging out and talking, to volunteering. We also participated in the Breast Cancer Awareness 5K. That was actually a tribute to both of our moms. Hjirea lost her mom to breast cancer, and this was a way to pay tribute to her," Libengood said. 

"I was a bit skeptical because my principal, he asked me about it because he knew that my mom had died. He said that it'd be nice to have a female role model in my life. And I didn't really know about the mentor program, but when I met Anny it was a nice surprise and I liked it," Mustafa said.

There are 1,100 mentors in the area. Each one is screened and goes through a background check. Every year, LSS recruits about 300 to 400 volunteers. But with a greater need this year, they're stepping up their efforts with a public, informational meeting Tuesday for people to learn more about the program.

"Most mentoring happens over the lunch hour so you are going to school and meeting with the student and just hanging out and talking. Maybe playing a board game or doing an art activity. In our high school program we do allow for students and mentors to meet in the community," Madsen said. 

The program only asks for a one year commitment, but many mentors stick with their kids for more. Some will even see their mentee graduate high school, then start over with a new child.

LSS hopes to get more people hooked on the program, to help the hundreds of children still looking for a positive role model.

"I see a lot of kids; some of my friends even want to get a mentor because I tell them about my experience with Anny. And they really want to do it," Mustafa said. 

"There are kids when I go to mentor, little people come up and ask are you my mentor? And it's just heart-breaking to say no to them. So every mentor in the community has had that happen to them. So we really want to not let the kids down this year," Madsen said. 

"I really think that we need to invest in our youth. Dollars are great but time is really priceless," Libengood said.

The informational meeting will be this Tuesday, at Lincoln High School from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m.

You can find more information at the LSS website.

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