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Program allows adults to make a difference in childrens lives
new deh youthfrieds Zubia
Kimberly Zubia shows off her completed candy houses created entirely out of foam. She is a YouthFriend of Sandi Gonzales, who volunteers as a mentor. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

For more information or to become involved in YouthFriends, call Michelle Daniel at Riley School, 620-793-1506.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas and make someone else’s Christmas merrier at the same time. All you have to do is give less than an hour a week to a child.

"Consider giving 40 minutes per week to change the life of a child," said Michelle Daniel, Michelle Daniel, family support worker at Riley School. She suggested joining YouthFriends, a school-based mentoring program that Riley School adopted eight years ago.

"There are currently 30 community volunteers who mentor kids at lunch time or during a study hour," Daniel explained. "Most volunteers eat lunch and talk with kids about their week and play a board game with them.

"Kids at Riley enjoy the connection with adults and it teaches them about healthy relationships and improves their attitude about school," she said.

"It helps me as much as it does the kids," said Sandi Gonzales, who has three YouthFriends. "My girls are grown and it makes me feel like I’m making a difference. I know it is time well spent."

Gonzales, who is a teacher’s assistant at Riley School, said she loves being able to share her lunch hour with her young friends. "They each get one-on-one time once a week and sometimes we do group activities."

Gonzales acts as a mentor to Kimberly Zubia and Lesley Rocha, both fifth graders, and Rony Gonzales, a sixth grader.

Riley currently has a waiting list comprised mostly of young boys who need a role model to interact with during lunch, Daniel said. It seems more women are willing to volunteer for the program and they prefer to have girl friends.

Daniel said Riley School is in need of more volunteers like Gonzales and the requirements are easy.

"First, you must like kids, pass a simple background check and take 40 minutes out of your week to listen to a child," she explained. "A reliable mentor is all the child needs sometimes to help them feel successful in school.

"YouthFriends is fun, flexible and is making a difference for kids," Daniel continued. "Research shows that mentoring is one of the top interventions in keeping kids away from drugs and alcohol. Teachers and parents at Riley believe it is also helping their kid’s attitude toward adults and school."