Thursday afternoon, the Subway restaurant in the Great Bend Walmart filled briefly with excited children dressed in red t-shirts, checking in with adults, barely able to contain themselves. They were the third and fourth grade students that are part of this year’s class of America’s Promise participants, and they were ready to do some holiday shopping.
Adult role models Meleah Frazer, Barb Achatz and Tammy Fish with Community Bank of the Midwest, along with Great Bend Firefighter Mark Orth, Barton Community College Director of Student Life Diane Engle, Great Bend Police Officer Jefferson Davis, Barton County Health Department Director Shelly Schneider and student mentors from the high school and college met with kids, each of which received $25 each to spend.
America’s Promise Alliance is the nation’s largest partnership dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth. The group accomplishes this by bringing together nonprofit groups, businesses, community groups, educators and policy makers. Great Bend has supported a chapter for several years, Frazer said.
Mentors were instructed to help students choose gifts for themselves or their friends and families with the money. Then, in groups of three or four kids to a mentor, they set out on a gift finding spree.
First stop for the girls was the jewelry department, where bling for mom was a top pick. Second was the search for the perfect “BFF” bracelet.
“If it’s $4.88, then round it up to $5,” advised one of the mentors. They helped the kids add up costs and budget their money if they had more than one gift in mind.
Meanwhile, boys headed for the toy department, where they looked over the latest in action figures and Nerf guns.
“You can get something for your brother and something for yourself,” one college aged mentor reminded them.
When the kids were done shopping, they met back at the Subway restaurant where mentors helped them wrap their packages.
“This year, some of our boys were really good wrappers,” Frazer said. “One told me he helps his mom every year.”
Adults arrived shortly after to pick up the kids that left beaming and excited to have packages of their own to place under the Christmas tree at home.
Ensuring the kids get to interact with caring adults in this way is one of the five points that America’s Promise holds as it’s mission. Others include providing safe places to interact, and helping to ensure they get best possible healthy start. They receive encouragement to study hard and to help others through the various activities they take part in throughout the school year. But the kids aren’t the only ones who benefit.
“The kids get so much out of this, but it’s really amazing to be a mentor,” Frazer said. “Seeing how excited they are and how much fun they are having really makes you feel great.”