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Making a difference in education

One hour a week may change a life; United Way of Kershaw County focuses on youth

Posted: August 30, 2011 3:12 p.m.
Updated: August 31, 2011 5:00 a.m.
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Once a week, Kevin Rhodes gives an hour of his time to a fifth grade student at Jackson Elementary. It’s a small commitment, he said, but it makes a big impact in the life of the child.

Rhodes, the project director for the Safe Schools/ Healthy Students Initiative at Kershaw County School District (KCSD), has been mentoring his young friend for almost a year and a half.

Rhodes said his expectations are simple. He gives one hour a week eating lunch with the student and provides a “positive professional role model.”

“Our relationship has evolved since I first began,” Rhodes said, adding it took some time to build trust.
The Lunch Buddy Program, offered through the ALPHA Center, coordinates mentors with students at Kershaw County schools who show a need. This program offered Rhodes the opportunity to connect with his mentee.

“It’s a great thing to be able to make a positive impact in a child’s life,” Rhodes said. “It’s been a wonderful experience and I’m thankful I made the decision to do this.”

While sometimes Rhodes brings the occasional treat -- like ice cream or cup cakes -- to share with the whole class, he said he makes a point not to do it every week.

“I want our relationship to be built on trust, not that I bring him stuff,” Rhodes said.
That trust has already helped build bridges between Rhodes, the student and the administration at Jackson.

“Last year, there was a disciplinary situation involving the student,” he said.

Ultimately, the student was comfortable enough with Rhodes to tell him the truth about what happened.

“It meant a lot that he was able to confide in me, and I thanked him for his honesty,” Rhodes said.

Mentoring programs, Rhodes said, are important for the children they serve.

“A volunteer mentor may be the only positive adult interaction these kids get all week,” he said, “and anyone can do it. For one hour a week, the impact is huge.”

Since December 2010, the Lunch Buddy Program has matched 50 mentors with students. All mentors go through a SLED background check

This program is just one area that the ALPHA Center, a United Way of Kershaw County (UWKC) partner agency, is making an impact in Kershaw County Schools.

It also provides evidence-based curriculum to educate students about drugs and alcohol as well as tobacco use and bullying in Kershaw County.

The mentoring program falls under the umbrella of UWKC’s education care council, which has established four main goals to accomplish: strengthen families to support education, secure 150 mentors to work with high risk students identified by schools, increase school readiness by 10 percent and establish after school programs to support educational success.

Other than the ALPHA Center, UWKC is also partners with the Hand In Hand Together Mentoring Program, which is funded by the Safe Schools/ Healthy Students Initiative grant. This program also matches at risk students with mentors within the KCSD and has recruited 64 mentors so far.

Mentoring programs aren’t the only partnerships that help UWKC meet their community goals. Girl Scouts of South Carolina – Mountains to Midlands, Inc is also a United Way Partnership Agency.

“For the past two year the United Way of Kershaw’s funds have helped us provide the Girl Scout Leadership Experience to girls in all corners of the County, especially to schools in the rural areas like Bethune Elementary and Baron DeKalb,” Ileana Arvelo, Girl Scout community development manager for Sumter and Kershaw Counties said.

Arvelo said funding from United Way helps the Girl Scouts provide educational events for the girls involved. Events include themed dances to promote healthy living and drug and alcohol prevention material.

“They also got to participate in a ‘Say no to drugs’ event, where they heard from speakers on the danger of drugs and the healthy alternatives to it,” Arvelo said. “The funds are making a difference in the lives of the girls we serve in the area. It’s our hope that with the United Way of Kershaw’s continued support we can reach even more girls so that the GS program will continue accomplishing its mission of building girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.”

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