Mentoring program serves long-term needs

Alexis Chandler sits with Becky Mathson during a recent Herald interview. The two work together as mentee and mentor through a local mentoring program. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — January is National Mentoring Month, and the Herald interviewed Bethany Shidler, coordinator of the NexGen One-to-One Mentoring program, a Disability:IN Uinta County youth initiative to help the community learn more about the program that helps local youth. Shidler said quality mentoring programs are proven to build relationships that improve school attendance and academic achievement, promote responsible decision-making and provide skills to better navigate relationships at school, socially and at home.

The National Mentoring Partnership found that 55% of young adults who were at risk for not completing high school but who had a mentor are more likely to enroll in college. Eighty-one percent of those young adults are more likely to participate in sports or extracurricular activities and 78% are more likely to volunteer in their communities. They are also more than twice as likely to hold a leadership position.

“As a community, we must commit to not leaving these powerful relationships to chance,” Shidler said. “MENTOR’s report found that one in three young people will grow up without a mentor. Through cross-sector collaboration, we can close the mentoring gap. Our goal is to match youth with disabilities, who are at-risk, or who have been involved with the juvenile justice system with a long-term mentor to help them become their best self and give them guidance and direction for their future. We want to keep this program going for years to come.”

Shidler said the areas on which the program focuses include life skills, education and employment, community involvement and healthy relationships. NexGen Mentoring is a long-term mentoring program where adults and youth are matched for at least one year. They have weekly contact and engage in four to six hours of positive activities a month.

Mentors assist mentees in setting goals and encourage them to become their best selves. The program is free of charge to participants. Shidler said the NexGen Mentoring staff provides personal, on-going support to participants, helping each match thrive and succeed.

Dan Shidler and Deacon Johns have been mentor and mentee partners for the entire two and a half years they have each been in the Disability:IN Uinta County program. During those years, they have become good friends and plan to continue that relationship even after Deacon reaches the age of 18 or has graduated from high school and will no longer be eligible for the program.

Shidler works for Triumph Gear Systems in Park City, Utah, and jokes that his wife, Bethany, the program coordinator, forced him to become involved.   

“Seriously, I got involved as a mentor three years ago in April, and I enjoy it,” Dan Shidler said. “It’s a chance to watch kids grow and mature. Deacon and I do a variety of activities. We work on vehicles, fix things, do some carpentry and sometimes we just drive around the desert or the mountains and talk. One time we went snowboarding in Utah.”

Johns is a 15-year-old freshman at Evanston High School. He said he enjoys the mentoring program as he gets to learn and try new things.

“Dan and I get along good,” Johns said of his mentor. “We are both mellow people. I like working on cars the best and want to do that in high school. I just got my driving permit and my first truck, a 1989 Chevy half-ton pickup.” 

Johns’ sister, Alexis Chandler, is also in the mentoring program. Chandler and Johns are the grandchildren of Elaine Chandler, who has been their guardian for the last 10 years. Elaine said she hopes the two children and their mentors stay friends forever.

“Both mentors have been positive influences on the kids and a big help to me,” Elaine Chandler said. “Grandparents are supposed to be the good guys but because I am also their ‘parent,’ I have to sometimes be the bad guy. I like that they each have a positive adult who provides a positive influence in their lives. Both mentors are people I can trust and they both treat my kids like their own family. They are good people.”

Alexis Chandler is 17 years old and a junior at Evanston High School. Becky Mathson has been her Mentor for the last three and a half years. Alexis works at Papa Murphy’s and also has a car of her own, a 2012 Chevy Cruise that she helps pay for.

“What I like best about the program is the monthly meetings we have with all of the mentors and mentees,” Alexis Chandler said. “We do service projects and different activities together.  In November we did Christmas cards for the senior center and the nursing homes. In January, we do Valentines for them.”

Mathson, who is employed at First Bank’s corporate office, said Alexis is her first mentee. She said what she likes best about being involved in the program has been watching Alexis grow and mature over the years and that they have become friends and companions. Mathson said the two do crafts together, bake and just hang out. 

Both Mathson and Chandler said they plan to remain friends even after Chandler graduates from high school and is no longer in the mentor program. Mathson said she also plans to remain in the program and be assigned another mentee.

The annual fundraiser for the Mentoring program will now be a Facebook auction. The Facebook group is called NexGen Mentoring Fundraiser. The auction fundraiser will run from Feb. 1-13, and donations can be mailed to 236 9th Street in Evanston. Donations can also be sent via Venmo to @Disability-Inuc.

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