By Lilyan Levant
There are many things that make our community unique. The C-U One-to-One Mentoring program, in my experience, has been the most gratifying way you can spend an hour of your time once a week. The program is truly unique and impactful for our community.
The program is a joint effort between Champaign Unit 4 and Urbana District 116 and applies to grades 3 through 7. I began mentoring when my mentee was in sixth grade. When we first met, we played marathon Uno Card sessions for weeks and weeks. Neither of us said much, we just played cards. Sometimes my mentee let me win, but otherwise, I lost nearly every time. Still, I could tell at the time, we were building a foundation of a relationship that would be long lasting and profoundly impactful for each of us. Slowly, we started talking. It was seamless and easy to connect, it just took some patience and faith that, in the end, my commitment to mentoring would pay off.
My mentee graduated from Urbana High School last month. She is planning to start college in the fall. Her current thinking is to start at Parkland and then transfer to one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities. I believe my commitment to her and to us had played a small part in her determination, her great grades, and her development into a wonderful giving, humorous and ambitious young person.
Having newly arrived in this community, I found the C-U One-to-One Mentoring program particularly rewarding as it enabled me to contribute to my new community. I was inspired to commit to the program because it has been part of the fabric of Champaign-Urbana for nearly 25 years. Its ongoing success is dependent on people like us, people who can devote an hour a week to mentoring in exchange for something truly inspiring.
The one-hour sessions are held on the school grounds during the school day only during the school year, not during weekends or evenings, making it convenient for mentors and consistent for mentees. The one-hour commitment per week is long-term so that mentors aren’t just jumping into kids’ lives for a year and then disappearing. We stay with them through high school graduation, whenever possible.
The program began in C-U when a woman from the East Coast, Susan Weinberger, was brought to town by the regional Office of Education, the school districts and the City of Urbana to talk about a school-based mentoring program that she had done at that point for 10 years in Connecticut.
At that time, Barbara Linder — who eventually ran C-U One-to-One and is now its chief fundraiser — was volunteering as a tutor at the middle school and saw the need for a program such as this one.
“What kids really wanted was just somebody to listen to them, to be there friend and hang out with them,” Linder said.
The benefits aren’t just for the mentees. It’s a two-way street.
“I think first of what the senior has to gain — a real feeling of connection,” Linder said. “It is a phenomenal opportunity to learn and grow. Mentors enjoy developing a relationship with someone you would never, ever get to know otherwise. But it doesn’t matter what age you are. All that you need to be is just somebody who cares about one kid and somebody who causes the kid to light up when they see you.”
She added: “C-U One-to-One is not about tutoring. We’re not about saving kids. And we’re not about judging them. But we’re really about accompanying them and valuing them.”