Lynden Schools’ highly successful mentoring program started with a question: How can we help? Now, 10 years later, the Lynden-born Be the One mentoring program has connected 350 Lynden students to 240 mentors—many mentors have had more than one student as they’ve served multiple years—and created a new academic and relationship-filled culture for hundreds of Lynden students.
The local nonprofit Partners for Schools, run by Denny and Nancy McHarness, kicked off in 2009 with the goal of supporting students within Lynden Schools. After a few successful projects, the group asked Lynden Schools where they most needed help. The answer rested in creating a positive impact on students through a mentoring program. Be the One officially launched at Lynden High School in 2013 with six students paired with six mentors.
Lisa Reynolds, the Be the One director from day one, says she can’t say enough about how beneficial of a program it has been. “It is just a powerful thing for a young person to have a positive relationship with an adult, somebody not their parent, not their teacher, not telling them what to do, just supporting them and interested in their life and showing up every week,” she says. “It is great to have someone listen to them.”
Reynolds says students routinely tell her the mentoring helps them feel more connected and less lonely. “All those positive things are somewhat difficult to measure, but are important,” she says.
There’s a benefit to the mentors too. “Mentors frequently tell me they think they want to give back, but they think they are getting more out of it than the student,” Reynolds says. “They are surprised by how meaningful it is to them and what they learn. Because of their mentoring experience they have better relationships with their own family members and become a better listener.”
Practically, the program matches a community volunteer mentor with a student at either Lynden Middle School or Lynden High School who has signed up for the program. The pair meets weekly at the school during the school day.
That first group of six matches has grown steadily. LMS joined the program part time in 2015 and then the program went full time at LHS in 2016. Reynolds and LMS coordinator Brian Clemmer are both school employees, but with salaries paid via a donation from Partners for Schools, which raises funds from a variety of local businesses, both small and large. Some businesses donate by allowing employees to use work time to meet with students.
The coordinators help manage the meeting times, screen prospective mentors and run ongoing trainings. They also teach youth mental health first aid programs in the schools. Be the One, now with roughly 50 matches as LHS and 40 at LMS, quickly grew, both in Lynden and beyond. Born entirely from that 2013 start, the program expanded to a variety of other Whatcom County schools, including Ferndale, Lynden Christian and Nooksack Valley.
Every one of the original six mentors has stayed involved in Be the One in some way, with Janna Gripp mentoring every year for 10 years. Reynolds says she still gets together with students long graduated, having formed long-term relationships. And that isn’t uncommon. Be the One asks mentors to commit to one year, but typically they stay with the same student throughout their time in Lynden Schools. Those bonds can last beyond high school.
As the program grew, more mentors stepped up. Sharon Butler, Connie Beamer, Herm Fransen and Jason Matthews have all mentored for nine years and Randy Anderson, Val Foster and Josh Macomber all for eight.
“I’ve never worked with anything as cool as this,” Reynolds says. “It is just an amazing partnership between the community and the school. It is so amazing to work with so many great adults in the community who want to step in.”
The next new mentor orientation and training is Feb. 16. Anyone interested in learning more about getting involved in Be the One can visit www.Betheonetoday.org.
What students are saying:
• “My mentor has helped me make strategic plans for my future and plan things out step by step.”
• “She let me know I could just be myself and not worry about what others think of me.”
• “It’s nice to talk to someone who has more experience in life to get advice and perspective.”
• “My mentor helps me develop conversation and social skills and not just be inside myself.”
• “My mentor helps me think about what I want to do with my life. He believes in me.”