By Julianne Pitcher
Meridian Times staff writer
Okemos High School students give back to the community by mentoring younger children through a program known as Chieftain Champs.
Chieftain Champs is a mentoring program that the ACTION club at Okemos High School organizes.
“ACTION,” standing for ‘All Coming Together In Our Neighborhood,’ is the largest volunteer group at our high school and is open to anyone. ACTION members can apply to become a mentor to a child from one of the local elementary or middle schools,” said Kenzie Krumm, a mentor captain for Cornell Elementary.
The program started about six years ago and now involves Hiawatha Elementary, Cornell Elementary, Bennett Woods Elementary and Kinawa Middle School, said mentor captain Sidharth Thakur, who presented this program at the Okemos School Board meeting on Nov. 12.
“There are currently about 30 high school mentors, and this number will most likely increase once fall sports end,” Thakur said.
Junior Nayana Kodur said, “Each mentor has one or two kids that they meet for about an hour and a half once or twice a week, depending on what school it is. Some schools meet more often than others.”
Even though dedicating time at least once a week is a big commitment for high school students, knowing they are making a positive impact on the children’s lives makes it worthwhile, said Krumm.
There are many reasons why high school students want to become Chieftain Champs mentors, Thakur told the school board.
Purva Shanker, who just started mentoring this year, said, “I became a mentor because I really enjoy working with kids. I have grown up in this area, and I think that it is important to give back to my community. Being a mentor will also help me develop my social skills and learn how to teach and interact with kids at a higher level.”
Megan Rick, co-president of ACTION, said, “I love working with kids and helping them succeed. I believe that everyone can have an amazing future, but some students just don’t know how to get there. With Chieftain Champs, I believe we can help kids realize they have fantastic futures and can reach their dreams.”
Thakur said, “I became a mentor because I really want to help someone who needs assistance academically.”
The high school students help the younger children with their homework and act as role models and friends. This is very rewarding for the mentor and the mentee, said Thakur.
Junior mentor captain Sagar Rathod said, “The program wasn’t centered around just tutoring the child assigned to you. It was designed to develop a friendship between the mentor and mentee. I set a good example for my mentee to help make a positive difference in his life.”
Rick said, “The children enjoy having someone around who is focused on them to play with, talk to and offer homework help. Just being a constant support in a child’s life and being there to cheer them on through good and bad times can help the student so much.”
Senior captain Alison Rhodes said, “Over the course of the school year, mentors see growth in their mentees through their grades and behavior, which is extremely rewarding and a great sign that we are doing something meaningful.”
“The bond formed between the mentors and mentees often becomes so strong and beneficial that a high school student may choose to match up with the same mentee the following school year,” said Thakur.
School board members think high school students mentoring the same child year after year is a very impactful aspect of the program, said Amy Crites, Okemos School Board president.
With the school board’s positive support, ACTION members look forward to another successful year of Chieftain Champs because it allows them to give back to the community, as well as the elementary schools that many of the members once attended, Thakur said.