A friendly ear

  • Tuesday, March 18, 2014

  • Updated Thursday, March 20, 2014 7:39 am

Chris Sokoloski/Times Raishawn Mitchell and Bill Herlong have been part of the Waccamaw High School mentoring program for three years. Herlong said it will be a “bittersweet” moment when he watches Mitchell graduate in June.

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Raishawn Mitchell and Bill Herlong have spent three years together at Waccamaw High School, talking about classes, life, sports, God and a host of other things.

It’s not a pupil/student or coach/player relationship. Herlong is Mitchell’s mentor. The two are part of program Waccamaw started four years ago to reach kids who might be struggling in school.

“We were really wondering if high school kids would be interested in it,” said principal David Hammel. “These kids need attention. They need more and more people to care about them.”

The idea was conceived at a meeting of the School Improvement Council, and implemented by Hammel, then assistant principal Jamie Curry, and Robbie Jones, a parent.

While everybody thought the program was a great idea, there was some trepidation as the first day arrived, with Hammel and Curry wondering if they would have to drag the kids to the first meeting.

All worries were quickly put to rest.

“Quite frankly, from day one, the kids have been outstanding,” Hammel said.

That first year there were about 15 to 20 students and mentors. That number rose to 45 to 50 last year, and has leveled out to around 20 this year.

Students from each grade are chosen by administrators, using criteria such as academics, and how they are interacting socially. Students have the right to decline to participate, but very few do, said assistant principal Tracy McCants, who started overseeing the program at the beginning of this school year when Curry became principal at Waccamaw Middle School.

“I actually have students who come to me and ask, ‘How can I get to be in the mentoring program?,’” McCants said. “It has amazed me how excited the students get.”

Parents also have to sign off on their child participating, and on the school sharing the student’s information with the mentor.

Ninth-grader Brianna Wright started the program in the fall.

“I felt like it would help me, mostly with my school work, and with my personal [stuff],” Wright said.

Amy Strong is her mentor.

“I love teenagers and I’ve done a lot of youth work in my church,” Strong said. “I just love being with teenagers. I have two teenage daughters now, so it’s just important for me to give back.”

This is Strong’s first year as a mentor and she would like to stay with Wright until she graduates.

“We do try and keep the people together if they’ve already built a relationship,” McCants said.

Herlong has been mentoring Mitchell for three years.

“I just thought when I was younger, like Raishawn’s age, that there were certain things that I didn’t feel comfortable discussing with my parents,” Herlong said. “So I just felt like it would be cool to support someone and encourage them, just sort of be a sounding board to any issues that he might want to discuss.”

Mitchell will graduate in June and Herlong said that will be a “bittersweet” moment.

“I’ll miss meeting him in these sessions, but it’s going to be cool to watch him graduate,” he said. “It’s been a great three years. I’ve definitely been blessed. I hope Raishawn has been as well.”

Mentors and students meet in the school’s media center every other Wednesday during the school year, for about 30 minutes beginning at either at 11:45 a.m. or 12:45 p.m., which are the school’s two lunch periods. Lunch is served for mentors and students.

This year’s mentors range from housewives to businesspeople to clergy.

“It’s a pretty diverse group,” McCants said. “Some people feel like they want to do something to give back and help people.”

Herlong and Strong highly recommend the program.

“Give it a shot,” Herlong said. “I promise them they’ll be blessed.”

“Come and be yourself,” Strong said. “They’re not looking for a special skill or anything. Just be yourselves and be a part of their lives, and be interested in them. [And pray] for them, not just when you’re here, remember to pray for them.”

Hammel said the students are thrilled to have somebody who cares about them and is willing to invest in their life.

“They absolutely love it. It’s been an incredible success. It’s been one of the more positive things we’ve done.”

To sign up to be a mentor, contact McCants at Waccamaw High at 843-237-9899. Volunteers must undergo a school district mandated background check and are asked to commit to at least one school year.

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