Hallway bells chime out the first lunch period at Spencer Butte Middle School, and a small parade of about 12 students shuffles into a classroom designated as their special lunchtime space. Some students enter alone, others in groupings. All have come to spend their break visiting with their own, personal adult mentor.
Welcome to another session of the Lunchtime Mentors program.
It’s a familiar scene, mirrored every week in each of the eight middle schools across the 4J District. The program, run and staffed by volunteers, has been achieving remarkable successes over the past four years. Every middle school has a waiting list of students who want in on the action.
Students volunteer as program participants, often with expectations of simply finding a caring adult friend. The students might be toting a suitcase of loneliness or confusion or loss. Some might be struggling academically, or feeling bullied, or suffering a chaotic home life.
For the adult volunteers, mentoring is most often about satisfying a desire to connect with and support a young person.
Anne Bridgman is the founder and coordinator of Lunchtime Mentors. She is a powerhouse advocate for kids. Her enthusiasm for building and strengthening the Lunchtime program can be seen in her relentless mentor recruiting across the community. “One of my dreams is to not have waiting lists,” she says. But Bridgman has also been busy laying groundwork for volunteer mentoring in elementary schools and the potential expansion of the middle school model into other local school districts.
Bridgman acknowledges that a big part of what makes Lunchtime Mentors work is its collaboration with school staff and community members. However, the heart of most mentoring program successes, she says, is rooted in consistency and trust. “It’s really the coming in every week that helps the mentors build trust,” she says. “And it’s in building the trust that the relationships flourish.”
To volunteer as a Lunchtime Mentor or learn more about the program, go to 4j.lane.edu/hr/volunteers/middle-school-mentor-program.