WATERVILLE — The Reach and Rise Program at the Alfond Youth Center is gearing up for its second year of matching children ages 6 to 17 who lack an adult role model with area volunteers.

There’s only one problem: the program doesn’t have enough capable adult mentors. Only four kids have been matched up with mentors, who are at least 23 years old and typically work in other community environments, such as churches or community colleges.

The program matches children with an adult for a year, withe the expectation that they’ll build a relationship while the child works toward goals. The program has at least 10 children who don’t have an adult match, said program director Denise Gianini.

“Most of the mentors are people that had a role model growing up and understand the importance of that relationship and want to give someone that opportunity,” Gianini said. “We definitely have more kids waiting to be matched up.”

The age requirement for mentors may be one of the hurdles, according to Gianini. She said one of the reasons the mentor has to be at least 23 years old is because the program allows mentors to take the children they’re working with out to the movies or bowling or for mini golf.

“No matter what we do, we always go to either Giffords or Sweet Frog,” said Bill Atchison, 57, one of the mentors. “We just hang out and do different things. If he feels like chatting about what’s going on, I listen.”

Since May, Atchison, who is a pastor at Litchfield Plains Baptist Church, has been working with a 12-year-old boy who wants to communicate better with his parents, who are separated with new spouses and families. For privacy reasons, the program didn’t release the names of children involved.

“It takes some time to establish relationship and build trust,” Atchison said. “I’m trying to help him move toward his goal of communicating better with his parents. It’s a situation that has its challenges, but there’s value in having a positive influence in a boys’ life.”

While the goals are often individualized, there’s a recurring trend, Gianini said.

“Confidence and self-esteem are constant goals from the kids that have been referred,” she said.

In the three months since Atchison have worked with the 12-year-old, there has been a noticeable difference, according to Kelly A. Klaiber, assistant director of the Alfond Youth Center’s After School Program.

“Before the partnership, he would do anything for a laugh, he was a bit of an attention seeker,” Klaiber said. “He’s become more of a leader. He’s quieted down and become more mature, and I think it has to do with that male figure that’s just for him. He’s able to be himself without being the center of attention.”

During their excursions, whether they are riding go-karts, seeing a movie or having a bite to eat, Atchison said he helps the boy work toward his goal with positive reinforcement.

“This day and age, there’s so much criticism and negativity, encouragement is such a key thing,” said Atchison, who has volunteered at the YMCA at the Alfond Youth Center for the past five years. “I’m just trying to encourage him and help him look for things that he’s gifted toward. We want him to be self-confident and self-esteem is very important, especially with young people.”

The children typically chosen for the Reach and Rise program are those who show signs of motivation and are determined, but may lack that structure in their lives that helps present opportunity, Klaiber said.

“I know some of the children, they have that quality and ability to be more than what they are, but they don’t have any opportunity to reach for that,” she said.

Atchison, who said that he plans on mentoring again once his year with the current child is up, summed up why he chooses to donate his time for someone who was a stranger three months ago.

“I think Jesus said it best: ‘Love others,'” Atchison said. “That’s what life is about, giving to and investing in other people.”

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @jessescardina

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