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Mentors make major difference for mentees

ROWANNE HALEY
SPECIAL TO THE MID-COUNTY MEMO

Mill Park fifth-grader Paz Davis, right, shares his creative bent with mentor Jason O’Leary. They met through a mentorship program offered through IRCO for David Douglas School District students.
Vlad Chifeac, left, and Roger Beeston were paired through a mentorship partnership between David Douglas schools and IRCO. They share a love of science and have built and launched a small rocket together.
Courtesy Katie Anderson Photography
When elementary and middle school students talk about their friends, one assumes they refer to people similar to themselves in height and age. But in the David Douglas School District, 38 students are now apt to include a very special adult in their list of good friends: their Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization mentor.

Last summer, IRCO began a new partnership with the David Douglas School District to mentor at-risk students. The schools selected the students, and IRCO matched them, based on shared interests, with a volunteer mentor.

Research shows that positive results from formal student mentoring programs include increased standardized testing results, higher graduation rates, less truancy and criminal activity, reduced alcohol use, less substance abuse and fewer teen pregnancies.

IRCO mentors make a commitment to meet with their mentee at least once a week, for a minimum of one year.

After nearly a year of operating the program, IRCO’s experience shows mentoring also increases the fun quotient for kids. Vlad Chifeac, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at Mill Park Elementary School, made and launched a small rocket and built a model airplane with his mentor, Roger Beeston.

Vlad and his family emigrated from Russia two years ago. Beeston too is an immigrant, from England, who came to America for a job in electrical engineering. Vlad desires to become a doctor, so the two share an interest in science, and both like building things with their hands.

Paz Davis is also a fifth-grader at Mill Park and has created a close relationship with his mentor, Jason O’Leary. O’Leary, who works in human resources at a program for homeless teens, has written two unpublished novels. Paz has been creating comic books since kindergarten about a character called Mike, so the two share a creative nature. In recent months, they have worked on turning Paz’s comic book into a movie, using both animation (stick figures they drew, cut out, and mounted on popsicle sticks) and actors (themselves and the mentor program coordinator).

At Ron Russell Middle School, Salim Turanov and his mentor, Seng Saecho, share the experience of growing up in a bicultural, bilingual family. Salim’s family came from Russia, and Saecho’s emigrated from Thailand. They spend their time together playing soccer and basketball, making collages and playing with Saecho’s dog, Hank.

When the pair first started meeting, Salim did not like to read. However, after a few trips to the library together and careful book selection, Salim now not only enjoys reading but also earned an A in it last quarter.

Saecho summed up his mentoring experiences in words most mentors can relate to: being a mentor gives him what his work does not — a deeper sense of connection. “This is genuine. It’s authentic. I know we’re building something special.”

If you’re interested in becoming a mentor, learn more by calling Juliya Gudev or Corey Goldberg at IRCO: 503-234-1541.
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