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Be someone who matters to someone who matters

Above: Jim Stratton and Nick Jibben spent time together playing chess, going out to dinner and movies, canoeing and more through the District 206 Mentor Program. (Contributed)1 / 4
Left: Stratton and Jibben recently met for breakfast to catch up on each other’s lives. Stratton mentored Jibben for four years through junior high and high school. The two are still in touch nearly five years later. (Tara Bitzan/Echo Press)2 / 4
Daker and Tewes only spent one year together in a mentor/mentee relationship, but their friendship has continued the 20 years since. (Lowell Anderson/Echo Press)3 / 4
Teryl Magaard (left) served as a Match 2 Mentor to Anika Thill for three years. Thill graduated from Jefferson High School in 2011 but has stayed in contact with Magaard ever since. (Contributed)4 / 4

Be Someone Who Matters to Someone Who Matters is the theme of the 13th annual National Mentorship Month.

Research shows that mentors can play a powerful role in providing young people with the tools to make responsible decisions, stay focused and engaged in school, and reduce or avoid risky behaviors.

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Yet many youth don’t get this opportunity because there aren’t enough mentors to fill the need. The same is true locally.

Three sets of mentors/mentees involved in School District 206 Community Education mentorship programs share here how mentoring touched their lives.

For more information on mentorship opportunities available through District 206, contact Kathleen Haug at (320) 762-3310, extension 4274 or e-mail

Worth the time

Jim Stratton began mentoring Nick Jibben at the end of Jibben’s 8th grade year at Discovery Middle School in May 2005.

The mentor/mentee relationship continued through the student’s graduation from Jefferson High School in May 2009 and beyond.

Jibben is now a junior at North Dakota State University in Fargo and Minnesota State University Moorhead where he majors in mechanical engineering and Japanese.

His studies, along with a full-time internship at the Dakota Gasification Plant in Beulah, North Dakota, leave him little time for much else. He soon plans to study in Japan for several months.

“I’ve always liked technology and robotics,” he said, explaining his interest to study in the country that boasts state-of-the-art structural engineering and infrastructure systems.

Despite his hectic schedule, he and Stratton still connect occasionally via phone. A few weeks ago they met in person for breakfast before Jibben headed out after a visit home for the holidays.

“The only thing that’s saved us is that we’ve both kept the same cell phone numbers,” Jibben said.

Both admit it could have been easy to lose touch and let the busyness of life get in the way of the relationship.

They listed fishing, bowling, movies, dinners out and canoe trips as some of their favorite times spent together.

“My parents divorced when I was little, so it was just my mom, sister and me,” Jibben said of his childhood. “Times were tight and mom was busy working or cooking, so this gave me something to look forward to and keep me out of the streets.”

Stratton originally became a mentor when the company he worked for joined an e-mail mentorship program with local elementary students.

After that, he mentored a junior high student and continued in that role until the student graduated. He was then paired with Jibben.

“I’ve always liked working with kids,” Stratton explained. “My own boys had graduated and I just felt this was something I would enjoy doing.”

While he liked mentoring, he admitted that finding time was sometimes challenging.

“There were times we didn’t get together as much as we wanted,” he said. “It’s easy to get tied up with the busyness of life, but this is a pretty important relationship that is worth the time.”

It's a special thing

Teryl Magaard of Alexandria is a firm believer in the theory that it takes a village to raise a child. That’s why she became a Match 2 Mentor for District 206 several years ago.

“Growing up I never formally had a mentor, but there were adults actively involved in my life,” she said. “Parents don’t encompass absolutely everything their child needs.”

As a high school student, Magaard was a Student Match mentor. She moved away after graduation, but upon returning, again got involved in the district’s mentoring program.

She was matched with Anika Thill in February 2008 and mentored her until Thill graduated in May 2011.

Thill said she doesn’t really know why she was recommended to have a mentor, but she’s never regretted it.

“One day I was just told I was getting a mentor,” she said. “I knew from the first time I met her that we’d get along. We had a lot in common.”

Thill was interested in volleyball and knew from a young age that she wanted to get involved in the military.

Magaard had played Division I volleyball in college and was in the ROTC program.

The two would go walking at Lake Carlos State Park, go for coffee, and just spend time together talking.

“It was nice to have someone to talk to other than family,” Thill said. “I knew I could go to her and get a different perspective on things.”

After graduation, Thill attended Alexandria Technical College for two years and is now a student at South Dakota State University in Brookings in the sports recreation and park management program and is a member of the National Guard.

She plans to graduate in 2016 and then move back to Alexandria. She eventually hopes to serve on the local fire department and become an officer in the National Guard.

Magaard, who has three children ages 10, 9 and 7, isn’t currently involved in a formal mentoring program because of her busy schedule.

“It’s something I will definitely get involved with again,” she said. “Life is so rushed these days. It’s a special thing to take time to really get to know someone and to focus on them and ‘grow’ them.”

There's a need

Stephanie Tewes and Amanda Daker only spent one year together in a mentor/mentee relationship. That was 20 years ago. But the relationship formed that year has lasted through the years.

Tewes was a senior at Jefferson High School and became a mentor through the Student Match program, which pairs a high school student with an elementary student. Her match was 11-year-old Daker, a 6th grader at Carlos Elementary School.

“I remember being nervous at first, but that didn’t last long,” Daker said, recalling that she was enrolled in the program because she was a “slower learner” who could possibly benefit from time spent with an older student.

The two went to movies, bowling, the park and out for ice cream together.

“We’d just hang out,” Daker said. “It was a good thing for me. It helped my self-confidence and it was cool to hang out with someone who was a senior.”

Daker later attended Alexandria Technical College and worked at a local restaurant for several years before moving to Colorado, where she currently works in an orthopedic clinic.

She plans to move back to Minnesota in a few months to be closer to family.

Tewes and Daker agree that the program is a good thing and are glad they were part of it.

“It’s a great program for a younger student who doesn’t have self-confidence to spend time with someone older,” Daker said, adding that she would have served as a high school mentor herself except that she didn’t have a driver’s license until the end of her senior year, making it difficult to meet with a young person.

Tewes is now employed as a nurse at Jefferson High School and sees first-hand the need for mentors for students of all ages.

“There’s a need, especially these days, with all the bullying that goes on and lack of self-confidence some of these kids have,” she said. “It’s a great program.”

VALUE OF MENTORING • Students who meet regularly with mentors are 52 percent less likely than their peers to skip a day of school. They also have a better chance of going on to higher education and better attitudes toward school.

• Youth who meet regularly with mentors are 46 percent less likely than peers to start using illegal drugs and 27 percent less likely to start drinking.

• The total value of time given by Minnesota mentors in 2011 was $7.5 million. In that year, there were 41,000 mentors mentoring nearly 200,000 youth throughout the state.

• There are two times as many female mentors as male in Minnesota. Because mentor/mentee matches are gender specific, 29 percent of male youth wait a year or more for a mentor.

• Youth involved in a mentor/mentee relationship showed a reduction in depressive symptoms and gains in social acceptance, academic attitudes and grades.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

(320) 763-1211