Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Beginning of El Reno's Students Striving for Success

This innovative mentoring program, implemented in 2013-14, is a model for beginning other mentoring groups. Cleverly, the program is governed by a  standing committee "under the umbrella" of an existing nonprofit, in this case, the El Reno Public Schools Foundation. Even more cleverly perhaps, the program is conceived and driven by the entire community!

This is the presentation made by Dana Gibson at the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence's Fall Forum 2013. 

"It Takes a Village"
(F) Michelle Ahern, Rana Seymour, Toni Grantham, Dana Gibson, Suzanne Thompson
(B) Brooke Stroman, Richard Steanson, Curtis Blanc

In 1996 Hilary Rodham Clinton chose an ancient African proverb to title her book, It Takes a Village to Raise a Child.  It offers a timeless reminder to us that children will thrive only if their families thrive and if society cares enough to provide for them.  When a small group of concerned citizens in El Reno began meeting, we all realized that there are things we can do to show our children that we will help them to thrive and that our village cares enough to provide for them.  We talked, we asked for participation from our city, we sought help from experts, we formally organized our program, we solicited mentors from within our village, and we began mentoring in the El Reno Public Schools within 12 months.
Curtis Blanc and I had our first of many discussions in the fall of 2012 after the grades of our public schools were published. The results were dismal. It was clear to us that something could be done and that we were just the ones to get that something started. We talked about mentoring in the schools, with emphasis on reading and encouraging parental involvement for our school children. We talked about what this board should look like and began to send out information to various members, asking them to join us. We included ministers; leaders of Mercy Hospital; Brooke Stroman, Community Outreach Director ERPS; principals from all the schools; bankers; insurance people; DHS; city leaders; and anyone else active in our community. 
I am a very close friend of Suzanne Thompson, OFE board Member, and El Reno citizen.  Suzanne and I had been in conversation about a program, and she suggested we invite Beverly Woodrome to a meeting to help with our discussion.  Beverly, as you know, is director of the David and Molly Boren Mentoring Initiative with OFE.   The results of this meeting were nothing less than amazing.  Beverly’s encouraging us to work toward a mentoring program led to another meeting with Mission Mentors, Fairview, Oklahoma. After this, we were truly hooked, and the enthusiasm was obvious in all of our committee members.

Craig McVay, newly chosen superintendent of El Reno Public Schools, encouraged us to form a partnership with the El Reno Public Schools, elect officers, design a brochure, and most importantly, ask the El Reno Public Schools Foundation to adopt our committee. This step would speed up our process immensely. We became part of their foundation, which gave us a 501(c)(3) immediately, allowing us to accept tax deductible donations quickly.  We gave our committee its name, Students Striving for Success, had brochures printed, and started soliciting mentors.
We now have over 125 mentors, meeting for one hour each week in the schools with their mentees.  There is talk all over El Reno about relationships, community pride and how much fun everyone is having.  There have been obstacles. Nothing happens without them, but we are diligently working through them.  We are certainly proud of Students Striving for Success and mentors Making a Difference.

Senator Clinton closes her book with this thought, "just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes children to raise up a village to be all it should be.  The village we build with them in mind will be a better place for us all."

[View Students Striving for Success program’s amazing recruitment video, which is a model for all to consider.] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pHaFpFZlqg
I would like to introduce some of the most important pieces to our puzzle:  Brooke Stroman, El Reno Public schools, has made this process seamless.  Her knowledge of mentoring and her love for our school children has been the catalyst we all needed. We hired Rana Porter Seymour as Brooke's assistant, and together they are a very strong and effective team.  Toni Grantham, my friend and treasurer of our committee never considers a task impossible.  Richard Steanson, vice-chairman with a servant’s heart and tireless volunteer spirit, Michelle Roblyer Ahern, secretary, has never missed a planning meeting and has been on board from the start.

Last but certainly not least, Curtis Blanc, El Reno Public schools Foundation board member, CASA volunteer, Mercy Hospital El Reno board chairman and the one that tries to tie my feet to the ground.  We want to thank OFE for inviting us and helping us.  Please take this time to ask questions of the panel.

Shared by Dana Gibson, Chairman, Students Striving for Success

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