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November 4, 2016

Lunch Buddies bond with Vista Elementary students

Londyn Smith, a fourth-grader at Vista Elementary, is excited to hang out at recess with her new friend Ande Harpster.

“Today, we played tetherball and she taught me how to double Dutch (jump rope),” Londyn said. “I think she’s cool. I love all the colors she has in her hair.”

Harpster is one of about 40 volunteer mentors meeting with Vista students through the new Lunch Buddies program from Ignite Youth Mentoring.

The program the volunteers into the school each Friday to spend lunch and recess with their students. The time is used for anything the students and mentors want to do, be it playing outside, working on a class assignment or craft together or just hanging out.

It’s an effort aimed at improving school attendance and classroom behavior by providing students a vital resource: an adult who can just listen.

“We keep it pretty simple on purpose,” says John Scheline, Ignite’s executive director. “We want this to be a time when they can just talk but also do what’s best for the student.”

Vista staff learned about Ignite’s efforts after the organization piloted a similar program at a Richland elementary school last year. Vista was one of the first approached by the organization when it started looking for schools for its full one-on-one mentoring model.

“We chose the kids who need a little help, who need a good mentor,” said Principal Jennifer Behrends on how students were selected for participation.

Mentors must pass background checks for both KSD and Ignite to volunteer in the program and all adults are welcome to apply.

At Vista, nearly all the volunteers are young college-aged adults from New Vintage Church. They signed up as part of their internship at the church, which is intended to prepare them for ministry work.

Jordan Mackebon, a Southridge High School alum, is taking a year off from attending the University of Washington to do her internship. She wants to be a child psychologist and sees mentoring as a good way to prepare for that work.

Mackebon says she had a rough childhood, much like her student, and understands how important it is for a child to have an adult they can go to.

“I think it’s hard for her to accept there’s this adult who wants to listen,” Mackebon said. “But I think it surprises her a bit to hear what I have to say because I’ve been through it.”

Behrends says students have really taken to the program and look forward to seeing their mentors each week.

“They seem more positive and happier to be in school,” she says.

Those interested in becoming mentors with Ignite should attend the organization’s next orientation meeting from 6 to 7 p.m. on November 15 at the Ignite offices at 1177 Jadwin Ave. in Richland. For more information, contact Scheline at (509) 948-3143 or