The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Progress 2013

March 9, 2013

A friend in need

Mission Mentors program offers children someone who can be there just for them

FAIRVIEW, Okla. — In August 2010, Garet Edwards was approached about joining a fledgling mentoring program for young people in the Fairview area.

But he decided he didn’t want to join the Mission Mentors group.

“I thought it was a good deal, but I probably didn’t have time for it and didn’t think it was for me,” said Edwards, who operates a cattle ranch some 10 miles west of Fairview.

Given the fact the match support coordinator of the new group was Randi Lackey, his wife’s first cousin, it isn’t surprising Garet changed his mind.

“They hounded me a little bit,” said Edwards of Lackey and his wife, Kaci. “After I got into it I was very thankful they did.”

In the years since, the initially reluctant Edwards has become not only a mentor but one of note. First he was named Mission Mentors’ 2012-13 Mentor of the Year and, in January, was one of 35 outstanding youth mentors recognized during Oklahoma Mentor Day at the state Capitol.

Mentors are asked to spend an hour a week with their mentee, but Lackey said Edwards goes above and beyond that.

“I don’t think he really knew what he was getting himself into,” she said. “He has had a really good time with those boys. We ask for an hour a week, and they are together a lot more than that.”

Edwards started out mentoring Clint Swanson, whose family he had known for years. Six years ago in February, Clint’s father was killed after falling in the bathtub and hitting his head.

So he took Clint under his wing, taking him hunting and fishing, among other activities. But now that Clint is 16, in high school an involved in sports and has a girlfriend, they don’t spend as much time together, Edwards said.

“We still hang out, talk and text,” Edwards said. “It gives them somebody to talk to. I was that age one time, and it is tough for a teenager.”

But Clint’s younger brother, Koby, now 14, “was just dying for me to be his mentor,” Edwards said, and so he took over that role.

“They are more like my little brothers than mentees,” said Edwards.

Besides hunting and fishing, Edwards and the boys have attended the International Finals Rodeo, gone bowling and attended local basketball games.

“They are good boys, a good family, they just needed somebody to take them to do boy stuff,” he said.

He admits he is uncomfortable when people praise him for his involvement with the boys. He said he gets as much or more out of the experience than they do.

“I take them fishing, and I may not even get a pole out,” he said. “It is fun to sit and watch those boys have a blast. I take them deer hunting, and I might not even get out of the truck, but they have a blast. It is just rewarding to watch them grow up.”

Garet and Kaci Edwards have a seven-month-old daughter, Katie, to whom the Swansons are like big brothers, he said.

Mission Mentors has 85 volunteer mentors, Lackey said, up from 50 when the program began.

“Our goal is 100 by next year,” she said. “In a town of 2,500 people, that’s quite a few people involved.”

The program began after Fairview school superintendent Rocky Burchfield attended the morning performance of a fourth-grade play at Cornelsen Elementary School.

“Twenty five to 30 percent of the kids didn’t have a parent there,” Lackey said. “Nobody was there to watch them. He drove back in for the evening showing, and it was the same thing.”

In the wake of that incident, Mission Mentoring was born. It was patterned after a similar program at Western Valley Academy in Oklahoma City.

The difference is under Western Valley’s program there is a mentor for every child.

“We had to start with the ones who needed it the most and grow from there,” Lackey said.

The goal of Mission Mentoring is “to give them a special friend,” said Lackey. The program is open to any willing adults, who must first apply, pass a background check and then be approved by the group’s board of directors.

Mission Mentoring’s school-based program is for students in grades 1-5, and all mentoring takes place at school. In the community-based program, for youngsters in grades six through 12, mentors have “a lot more freedom to go other places,” with their young charges, Lackey said.

“One raises cattle, and he took his mentee out to work with him, and the mentee had never seen a cow before,” she said.

Thus far, she said, the program has been a success.

“We do surveys with the teachers at the end of every year, and they see changes, better attendance, for one thing, because the kids show up thinking their mentor might come today,” Lackey said. “The kids are happier all around.”

For his part, Edwards said he has learned much more about himself than he has taught the Swanson brothers.

“I learned that there is more to life than just your day-to-day deal,” he said.

To anyone thinking about becoming a mentor, Edwards said, he advises them to give it a try.

“I am the ideal poster person for this thing,” he said. “It doesn’t take a whole lot of time, but a little bit goes a long way. I know guys who go down to the elementary school, maybe an hour a week, and those kids look forward every week to seeing that person, knowing that somebody cares.

“It has the same effect on the older kids, they just don’t show it as much. There are plenty of people able to give an hour a week, and it might mean a kid will be in the library or the gym rather than roaming the streets.”

He says he is grateful his wife and her cousin worked on him until he agreed to be a part of Mission Mentors.

“At least try it,” Edwards said. “It is worth everybody experiencing it once. After the first sitting, I was hooked.”

More information about Fairview’s Mission Mentors program can be found at www.missionmentors.com.

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