Tia Paul has a photo of herself with her mentor from a program that continues to this day.
“That was me, my senior year in the purple shirt, and that’s my mentor,” said Paul, who has the framed picture in her office.
She and her mentor have built a relationship that has lasted over 15 years, and it started because of the Take Stock in Children program.
The Education Foundation of Alachua County’s Take Stock in Children program, which begins again in the fall, is recruiting 61 mentors for the 61 new mentees in its upcoming class.
The foundation will hold its Take Stock in Children Mentor Mixer on March 31 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Scorpio at 3911 Newberry Road in Gainesville. This will be one of its biggest efforts to recruit mentors. The mixer is a time for current mentors to bring in prospective mentors to learn about the program.
Take Stock in Children is a statewide program that helps provide low-income youth with resources such as mentoring and scholarships.
The program was founded in 1995 and began in Alachua County in 1996. Since then, the Alachua County program has graduated almost 600 students and will graduate 57 more in May. The program currently has 267 students in grades seven through 12.
Mentorship is at the heart of Take Stock in Children. Mentors meet with their mentees once a week for 30 minutes throughout the school year.
Paul, 31, who is now the director of programs for the Education Foundation of Alachua County, used to be a mentee and now serves as a mentor.
“I’ve mentored four girls through the program. There’s one right there,” she said pointing to another picture frame in her office.
She was paired with this mentee for six years, which is the maximum time a student can be in the program. Paul said they built an invaluable relationship during their weekly 30-minute lunches.
“They [the mentees] just become a special part of your life,” Paul said.
Paul has seen the power of the program and said it can lead to lifelong relationships.
She said her mentor attended her wedding and her child’s baby shower.
Kate Clement, one of Paul’s coworkers, became the mentor coordinator for Take Stock in Children at the end of November.
Clement is responsible for pairing mentors and mentees. As she sifts through the applications, she said she focuses on the mentor and mentee’s interests to determine if they are a good fit.
“Some of our kids are a little shy,” she said. “But they’re trying to build that trust with adults. It’s a tough thing to put your guard down when you’ve had it up for a long time as a kid.”
Clement, who is the volunteer and marketing administrator with The Education Foundation, said she is excited for more of these relationships to be brought to life.
One goal of the program is “to help them [mentees] gain that trust with this adult in their life and to build that relationship and have it thrive and have it grow and help them navigate not just college but just like life,” she said.
Right now, Clement is spreading awareness through events and tabling to find mentors. She said she is challenged with the task of finding mentors and completing all 61 pairings by May 5.
One mentor in the program is Logan Swift, a junior at the University of Florida, who has been a mentor since his freshman year.
In the two years Swift and his mentee have known each other, Swift said he has been able to see his mentee grow academically, socially and personally, and he said he looks forward to seeing his student grow as he transitions from middle school to high school.
“This is more than just like mentor-mentee thing,” he said. “You know, it’s kind of building a relationship, building a friendship.”
Tim Roark, Take Stock in Children mentor and board president of the Education Foundation of Alachua County, has been a mentor for around eight years. He said he previously mentored someone from their seventh to 12th-grade years. He currently co-mentors with his friend Karsten Derendorf.
Roark, a financial advisor with Koss Olinger, an independent wealth management firm, recalled the first time he met with his first mentee.
“There were some kids outside eating with us, and they left trash all over the place,” he said. “And I went to him, [his mentee] I was like, hey, why don’t we talk to those kids and have them pick up their trash? And he was like, no, I’ll pick it up Mr. Tim. I need to be a leader.”
Roark said this is a memorable moment for him, and it was at this moment that he knew how important it was to put his all toward helping his mentee.
Mary Benedict is another mentor in the program, and she also serves on the board of the Education Foundation of Alachua County. While she has only been a mentor for a year, she has played an active role in the Gainesville community since 2008. She previously served as president of the Alachua County Council of PTAs.
Benedict’s mentee is currently a senior in high school, and Benedict began working with her when she was in 11th grade.
She said her mentee’s previous mentor passed away, which was really difficult for her mentee.
Benedict said she stepped into this role with a “listening ear and a caring heart.”
“You don’t have to know anything specifically,” Benedict said. “You just need to go and be a support.”
Clement recalled a moment from the previous mixer when she asked a prospective mentor what he was afraid of, and he said he didn’t want to let the kid down.
Clement said one of the mentors responded, “You’re letting them down by not doing it at all.”