For six years, Delores Baker, Great Bend, volunteered as a Youth Friends mentor for a Riley Elementary School student. For six more years, they nurtured their friendship through letters and lunch visits. This year, Baker had the great joy of seeing her friend graduate from Great Bend High School. And on Monday night, the USD 428 Board of Education will honor her with a R.O.S.E. (Recognizing Outstanding Support of Education) award at their regular June meeting.
“It has been a privilege and a joy to follow this beautiful child through school,” Baker said.
Baker retired from teaching in 2000. Formerly a fifth grade teacher at Park Elementary and a science and English teacher at Great Bend Middle School, she began looking for a connection with a program that would benefit children. She turned to Mary Lou Warren at R.S.V.P. who recommended she contact Michelle Daniels with the Youth Friends program at Park and Riley Elementary schools.
“When I was teaching, there were always those kids I wished I could take home and encourage them to work hard and do their best,” she said. “Here was an opportunity for me to work with just one child, instead of a whole class full. That aspect of Youth Friends drew me in.”
Riley principal JoAnn Blevins has seen the impact Youth Friends has had on students time after time. “The greatest gift, I believe, we can give children is time,” she said. “Youth Friends volunteers like Mrs. Baker gift Great Bend students their time.” That time has helped students gain confidence, come out of shells and participate and feel confident in school.
“I’m deeply grateful to Mrs. Baker and all of the Youth Friends volunteers for all that they do for the Great Bend kids,” Blevins said.
Daniels helps match adults with students in the program. She matched Baker with a young girl in the first grade. At first, she would come to school once a week to read with her. Then, they began playing card games and board games together. In second grade, Baker began having lunch with her once a week, and was there to push her on the swings and laugh and play during recess. When she and her husband would travel, she made a point of sending postcards and letters to her teacher to continue the weekly interaction. At the end of sixth grade, she and Baker made cookies to give to her teachers. Every birthday and Christmas was observed.
“I encouraged her to work hard in school and believe in herself, and understand that education would be the key to a broader future,” Baker said. “She made it! She stuck with it! There Is great joy in knowing she has her high school diploma and graduated with honors and a scholarship now to Barton Community College.”
Mrs. Baker’s graduation gift to the student was a memory scrapbook of pictures collected throughout the school years.
Daniel said there are many students who would like to have a Youth Friend like Baker in their lives. Currently, there are 29 students matched with a friend, and a waiting list of at least 100 who would like to be. Volunteers commit to spend one hour any day of the work week with a student, mostly over the lunch hour at the school, she said. While at-risk students are especially in need of the extra help from an adult role model, any child can request a friend, she said. She can be contacted by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Kids just want someone there to listen and spend time with them,” she said. “It’s really pretty easy and flexible.”