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Mentor Denton begins second year of helping at-risk school children

Mentor DentonUNT provided about eight out of every 10 mentors participating in the award-winning Mentor Denton program, last year. The program, which launched in 2013 with the goal of connecting 10,000 mentors with the estimated 10,000 at-risk students in Denton public schools, attracted more than 1,300 volunteers in the Denton community last year.

Many in the Denton community — like Denton accountant and UNT alumnus Mark Merki — are learning first-hand the impact of volunteering through Mentor Denton, an initiative between UNT and Denton community partners that recognizes mentoring as a way to impact students’ lives. In 2014, the university received the Best Adopter for Higher Education Award from the Denton Independent School District.

“Mentor Denton helped me practice patience and has given me the ability to see long-term results,” said Merki, who served as volunteer during the initiative’s pilot year. “The student I mentored grew in the eight months I met with him, showing me how even a short-term commitment can positively impact a person’s life.”

The program began through a partnership between UNT, Communities In Schools of North Texas, Denton Independent School District, the United Way of Denton County and the city of Denton. Program partners also now include Big Brothers Big Sisters and Texas Woman’s University.

“Mentor Denton is the direct result of UNT’s four bold goals and without that influence it wouldn’t have become an idea that grew into an initiative ” said Gayle Strange (’67), a Mentor Denton Committee member and a former chair of the UNT System Board of Regents. “It’s an excellent example of how our university and the Denton community are working together.”

Amy SimonAmy Simon, director of UNT’s Center for Leadership and Service, said the program this year will offer school-based mentoring in addition to new volunteer options and support.

“It’s powerful to realize how one person can make a difference in a child’s life by giving one hour a week,” said Simon, who also serves on the committee. “It’s such an incredible impact to encourage them to succeed.”

For the 2014-15 school year, Mentor Denton expects to reach even more at-risk students, said Mentor Denton chair and Denton City Councilman Kevin Roden (’98).

“We’re excited about the positive impact that Mentor Denton is having on the lives of children in need, and its volunteers,” he said. “We’re finding that this is a great way to engage community members who are interested in helping to keep students in school and learn the skills they need to succeed in life.”

Denton County has more than 31,000 children at risk of dropping out of school, according to a  United Way of Denton County 2012 Community Needs Assessment.

“Through Mentor Denton we’re showing that education is the cornerstone of individual and community success as well as the first step to improving the quality of life in a community,”   said Gary Henderson, president and chief executive officer of United Way of Denton County.

About Mentor Denton

Mentor Denton was one of the first community projects to come out of UNT’s Engagement Advisory Committee, a subgroup of the UNT President’s Community Engagement Council. The advisory committee included business and civic leaders and set a 20-year vision for community engagement built on using mutual strengths and resources to meet long-term and short-term goals that impact the region’s quality of life — from diversity, green living and job placement to cultural distinction and mentorship.

Communities In Schools of North Texas, which has served at-risk students in Denton ISD for 20 years and serves as the primary provider for in-school dropout prevention programs in the North Texas region, identifies students who are helped through Mentor Denton and helps facilitate and monitor mentor matches and students’ progress throughout the school year.

Mentors are required to clear a criminal background check and complete an application. Volunteer information sessions are offered at UNT, United Way of Denton County, and at designated Communities In Schools of North Texas training sites.

—Adrienne Nettles, University Relations, Communications and Marketing

(Above, a UNT student helps a student with her homework. Photo courtesy of Communities In Schools of North Texas.)







Posted on: Wed 10 September 2014

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