• Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles exploring mentorship programs in Norman. The articles will run the third Friday of every month.
Second grade can be one of the more formative years for a child, and for Capri, 8, and Jennifer, 7, a mentor relationship helps.
The Center for Children and Families Inc. 210 S. Cockrel Ave., makes mentor relationships the core to its Boys and Girls Club, Amanda Pulis, CCFI marketing and communications coordinator, said. The Boys and Girls Club is open from 3-7 p.m. Monday through Friday and is an after-school program open to Norman Public School students ages 6-18.
“We really want to provide positive adult role models for our club members, and by having those consistent volunteers come in that just provides that support system that they need, come to rely on and look forward to,” Pulis said.
Lauren O’Breza is studying entrepreneurship at the University of Oklahoma where she will graduate in May, and she first met Capri and Jennifer through a business practicum course in September 2018 that required her to volunteer. Back then O’Breza came to The Boys and Girls Club between six and 12 hours a week, and now she mentors consistently on Mondays.
Through the folders program, O’Breza meets Capri and Jennifer at the club to work on homework, play games and just spend time together. The three mainly focus on compound words, reading, basic math and sharing feels and emotions.
O’Breza is passionate about making sure people feel valued and heard, and she said she loves that she gets to invest time into these relationships.
“I feel like they can rely on me, they can tell me anything that’s on their minds, we can be silly together, we can be serious, it’s just totally up to them,” O’Breza said.
Capri and Jennifer couldn’t be more different from one another and O’Breza said it’s interesting to her that she gets to interact with them differently.
Capri marches to the beat of her own drum and is an individualist, funny, smart and sassy with lots of quick one-liners, O’Breza said. She doesn’t like help with her homework often, but once she gets started she’s good to go, she said.
Jennifer is a little ball of energy and loves to do schoolwork, she said. From the moment O’Breza walks in the door, she said Jennifer knows she’s in the club and is glued to her hip.
“I come in with an open-mind because I don’t know what they are going through each day. I basically try to come in and be the person that they need me to be in that moment,” O’Breza said.
It depends on the day, she said, but when homework is a bust they take a break to play with Play-doh, legos, clay and games. She said she asks them a lot of questions to be aware of what they both like so that they can collaborate.
Capri and Jennifer said they feel happy and excited when they see “Miss Lauren” walk through the door. Capri said it makes her day better, and she’s her friend.
Jennifer couldn’t stop giggling after she said she doesn’t like homework because O’Breza said, “Oh, yes you do!” To which Jennifer followed up with, “She does make our brains smarter.”
Both Capri and Jennifer said they like to do crafts and play outside with O’Breza, and that she makes homework fun with crayons.
“It’s a strong bond, and I like being able to share that bond and strengthen that bond while also being able to help them with homework, because I know that’s so important at their age and they are so smart,” O’Breza said. “I want them to know they are smart and that they are capable, and if I can be the person that helps them realize that, that means the world to me.”
The ultimate goal for CCFI, Pulis said, would be for all of their club members to spend time with a mentor once a week. CCFI currently averages 106 members a day and has 17 active volunteers, she said.
They have mentors of all ages, she said, from busy professionals to college students and older generations volunteering their time.
“We just ask anyone who is interested to contact us and we can be creative, and just get everyone involved in a way that they are comfortable with at their own capacity,” Pulis said.
For 50 years CCFI has sought to enrich the lives of children and adolescence who have been through traumatic experiences through counseling, The Boys and Girls Club, The Bringing Up Babies program, Divorce and Co-Parenting program, parent assistance and a baby pantry.
CCFI is a partner of Mentor Norman, an initiative that aims to inform about mentor needs and change mindsets. Mentor Norman has more than 550 children waiting to be matched with mentors at a variety of organizations. Megan Sanders, one of the individuals behind Mentor Norman, said there’s a significant need for mentors.
“I think that mentorship programs are incredibly important, because it creates this cycle of people pouring into other people and then other people in turn pouring into other people,” O’Breza said. “It creates that pay it forward ripple effect, so I wish more people would realize that being a good example and leading other people towards this generosity of spirit will make a lasting difference in the community.”
Mentor Norman is partnered with Big Brother Big Sisters of Oklahoma, Bridges of Norman, Center for Children and Families, Community After School Program, Loveworks Leadership Inc., Norman Public Schools and Court Appointed Special Advocates for children. These organizations assess the need they have for mentors and share that need with Mentor Norman.
For those interested in finding a mentor position through Mentor Norman, visit unitedwaynorman.org/mentornorman. For a mentorship through CCFI call Carla Steffes, CCFI program coordinator for good character and leadership, at 364-1420.
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