By Robert Lucke
Talk to Debbie Kirby for just a couple of minutes about the mentoring program she helped form and a light comes into her eyes that says volumes about the program and Debbie herself.
Kirby has been the director for the girls program since its inception six and a half years ago. It is a volunteer position and it has helped to give sixth-grade girls positive role models. This was Kirbys last year as director of the mentoring program.
Six and a half years ago, Katherine Williams at MSU-Northern called together a group of 20 women, and from that, we formed Reach for Tomorrow mentoring program, said Kirby. I have always been interested in gender issues. My hope is that people will be treated as human beings. I have always been interested in trying to eliminate discrimination. I worked with a state-wide group on equity. So that was why I was concerned about a mentoring program.
A Havre group of concerned women found that girls, when they reached the sixth grade, sometimes made an unconscious decision that they would achieve or would never reach their potential.
Mentoring tries to provide an adult friendship with sixth-grade girls. Sometimes girls and their mothers can become enemies at that age, and it is important for us that the mentor was not a parent figure, Kirby added. And we need mentors who were not replacement for mothers. We found in five full years of mentoring that most of the girls are still with their mentors even though the program officially ended when they graduated from the eighth grade.
No problem finding girls who need mentoring. The size of the group usually is from 10 to 12 a year. The problem is finding the mentors.
The tough task is recruiting enough adult women. As with all things, the people who are the most maxed out are the most interested. We provide 10 hours of training, Kirby continued. Avis Chenoweth recruits adult women for the program.
Results, Kirby emphasized, are great!
We really have good results. Girls who have gone on have requested they stay together as a group, so we are trying to put a peer mentoring program in at the high school, Kirby said.
Along came two Vista volunteers into the Havre community and a boys mentoring program was formed.
Adell Horn, a Vista volunteer from Pennsylvania, started the boys program a year ago. That program matches men with boys in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, Kirby said. In recruiting mentors, that group has had most luck with young college men and not much luck with adult men in the community.
Kirbys mentoring program will do just fine without her, Kirby thinks.
Both programs are up and running strong. I am still on the board of directors and I will be working with the new director, said Kirby. We dont have anyone yet, but will have soon. Each side (boys and girls) has its own steering committee and they will get along just fine.
Even though Kirby is giving up her volunteer program, she is still very much a part of Havres alternative schools program. She is the lead teacher in that group of 20 to 25 students working to achieve success in different ways other than the traditional high school curriculums.
That program got a new name last year. The students named it SUNS or Students United for New Success. Kirby related. The program started because there were too many dropouts.
Having the program in the basement of the Robins School Administration building was a challenge to see if these alternative students would be accepted by district administrators. They were accepted in ways not expected.
At the time, Bob Windel had his office right by the front hall and he would come out and greet the students each morning, Kirby said. And since the beginning of the program, Ric Floren has come into the classroom almost every day to see what we are doing and to make the students feel welcome.
So Kirby will continue to help high school-age students make it through school and along the way grasp a better self image. She put a plug in for mentors needed. Adult women interested, call Avis Chenoweth at 265-1384, and adult men call 265-6206. Meantime, Debbie has some plans of her own for spare time this fall.
My son Josh is playing football for MSU-Northern and I am really looking forward to going to some games, said Kirby laughing. And the last two years, we have been going back to Dickinson, North Dakota, for baseball. I will keep busy.