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Invest in the future: Mentor a child

Beth Collins has lunch with her lunch buddy, Asani, a 4th grader at Carlos Elementary School, every other week. Contributed photo.1 / 2
Deb Collins and her lunch buddy, Katelyn, a 4th grader at Carlos Elementary School, spend time talking and playing games during their time together. Contributed photo.2 / 2

Research shows that young people who have mentors are less likely to use drugs, skip school or be involved in criminal activity.

Research shows that involvement in mentoring enhances a company's image, increases employee performance and impacts the future workforce.

So the question is, if you are the owner or leader of a company, why wouldn't you support mentorship opportunities?

January is National Mentor Month, and this year's theme, "Invest in the Future: Mentor a Child," recognizes small businesses and individuals who are making a difference in their communities by helping youth build positive social relationships and skills that can impact the future workforce.

In December 2011, first lady Michelle Obama issued a corporate mentoring challenge encouraging companies to support mentoring programs that help youth gain leadership skills, achieve educational goals and increase their confidence.

With the continued increase in divorce and blended families, working parents and added pressures on young people, the need for mentors has never been greater. And Alexandria is no exception.

According to Kathy Haug, District 206 mentorship coordinator, there is currently a list of area students waiting to be matched with adult mentors.

Haug believes that if local businesses would support and encourage their employees to become involved as active mentors, all the youth on the waiting list could be matched with mentors who could give them the boost they need to succeed.


Deb Collins, president, and Beth Collins McComb, CEO, of Collins Cabinets in Nelson, know first-hand that giving often also means getting back much more.

This mother and daughter have made mentoring a family "pay it forward" gift by mentoring five different students at Lincoln and Carlos elementary schools over the past seven years.

"Being a lunch buddy volunteer is very rewarding - the benefits easily match the effort," Deb said. "I enjoyed watching my buddy grow as a person and become more confident by learning who he wanted to be."

Deb was there for that student through his parents' divorce, parents' remarriages and birth of new siblings.

Although the student is in middle school now and no longer in the Lunch Buddy Program, Deb still receives e-mail updates from the parent.

She noted that a side benefit of being a lunch buddy is getting a clearer understanding of the many challenges youth face.

"Young people have many challenges each day," she said. "So many split families, busy working parents, blended families, etc. I hope to break through and be an asset to my buddy."

Life got very busy for Beth Collins after moving back to Alexandria in 2006. Joining the Lunch Buddy Program gave her an opportunity to slow down and focus on others.

"Being a Lunch Buddy provides me the wonderful opportunity, every other week, to really think about someone else," she said. "When eating lunch with my buddy I can't help but slow down, play, and appreciate the spirit in kids.

"I have learned patience and kindness from the great staff at the school," she added. "In the business world I may not have experienced these same opportunities...I am grateful to have found something that is so simple to participate in and gets me outside myself."

Because of the positive experience, Beth and her husband recently signed up to be a "big couple" in the Big Sister/Big Brother program in the Twin Cities where they now live.

"I am excited for this new opportunity, and so grateful for the valuable lessons and experiences that mentoring brings to my life," she said.


District 206 offers two adult/child mentorship opportunities.

The Lunch Buddy program requires an adult mentor to visit an assigned elementary student at his/her school for lunch twice a month (amounts to about 18 hours a year).

The Match 2 Mentor program requires an adult to spend four to six hours a month with an assigned student in grades 5-12, meeting year-round during after school hours (amounts to approximately 50 to 70 hours per year).

The programs are funded through United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties.

For more information, contact Kathy Haug by e-mail at or by phone at (320) 762-3310, extension 4274.



• Enchance community image.

• Improve morale and productivity.

• Invest in future work force and client base.


• Return to work happier and feeling more productive.

• More loyal and have increased pride in their company.

• Accept more challenges at work and at home.


• 81 percent show improved grades.

• 93 percent have improved attitude about school.

• 96 percent have an improved self-concept.



The District 206 mentor program currently has 49 adult lunch buddies and 23 adult Match 2 Mentors volunteers representing 47 area businesses, as well as retirees. But many more are needed. There is currently a waiting list of students waiting to be matched with adult mentors. Call (320) 762-3310 to get involved.

Follow #AlexMN @EchoPress Life Editor Tara Bitzan on Twitter at @TBitzan.

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