Making a difference through ‘Connections’





You turn on the local news, you open up the newspaper and often times there are few things that give us hope and leave us feeling energized for tomorrow. But there are good things happening in this world. They come in small, fleeting moments that may not make the top stories of the day, but their impact is so significant it lasts a lifetime.

Many don’t get credit for what they do, nor do they want it. Often they don’t even comprehend the impact they’re making in the lives of others. They volunteer their time and efforts because they have found their purpose in helping others realize their ability to achieve great things. They’re everyday people doing their part to make a difference. They are mentors.

Three days out of the week one can walk by Christine Bailey’s room and see third, fourth and fifth grade students learning and having fun while doing it through the Connections mentoring program at Pulaski Elementary School.

Volunteers work one-on-one with students for an hour – helping them grasp concepts, work on reading and comprehension skills and play interactive learning games. Students not only leave feeling more confident in their studies, but more confident in themselves.

“It’s really nice when you see a kid get it; when their face flashes and they say, ‘Oh yeah!’” said John Burger.

Burger is retired from the Navy and is also a retired meteorologist and oceanographer. He even has experience working with children. After retiring from the Navy he taught computer literacy to middle schoolers in Norfolk. His professions have allowed him to travel the world. The stories he has are endless. “I like passing on what I know. I just wish I had more time with them,” he said.

No child is the same, and that’s what keeps it interesting for Darlene Kuntz.

“I just want to hug them all the time,” she said.

Kuntz has an interesting story. She spent 26 years of her life in the Army. Kuntz said the kids she mentors, especially the boys, love to hear about her life in the Army. “They think it’s exciting,” she said.

Kuntz explained that she often receives thank you letters from those she mentors. One time she got a thank you note that said she was a “great general.” Kuntz laughed. “I was only a sergeant,” she said.

She can’t believe that she’s been mentoring since the program started 12 years ago, but it’s her interactions with children that keep Jane Morris coming back year after year.

“I do it because of the feeling I get from knowing they’re gaining from my mentoring,” said Morris who is a retired LPN.

Jenni French, who is also a retired LPN and a substitute teacher in the school system for seven years, mentors because she enjoys the kids. For French, there is nothing that gives her more satisfaction than when a child does well. “It gives me a feeling of achievement that I really am helping,” she said.

“The life experience they bring to students is amazing,” said Bailey who started the mentoring program. She said over 20 mentors volunteer their time to the program three days a week. What’s more, students aren’t even missing classroom instruction to participate in the program. “The scheduling has worked out beautifully,” she said.

Ajani McCloud believes the program is “great.”

Tyra Bowers said, “It’s fun.”

“Playing games and reading fun story cards” are Bridgett Akers’ favorite things to do.

It’s through the help of volunteers that students like McCloud, Bowers and Akers are experiencing defining moments through connections with their mentors. They may not realize it, but their time in the program is shaping the course of their futures. They’re learning more than concepts to help them make the grade for an upcoming test. Each day they spend with their mentor they’re learning lessons that will carry them through life.

That’s what the Connections program is all about, creating that spark, that “can do” attitude within a child that keeps them moving in the right direction.







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