Written by Kara Nguyen, Kids Hope USA Director of Development and Kari McLennan, Kids Hope USA Program Support Specialist
For 17 years, Mr. Gary has been a Kids Hope USA mentor through his local church. He’s invested countless hours into the lives of kids in his community, and when the opportunity came to start with a new student five years ago, he said, “Yes!”, once again.
Mr. Gary and Eli met when Eli started first grade and for four years, Mr. Gary came to Eli’s school on Tuesdays. They’d usually spend their hour together in the gym, throwing the football, playing wiffleball, or whatever else Eli was interested in that week. Academic work is a challenge for Eli, but he has been improving with the help and encouragement of Mr. Gary. While they played games, Mr. Gary would often quiz Eli, so they could learn side by side.
During Eli’s 4th grade year, Mr. Gary moved away, but the distance didn’t stop Mr. Gary’s commitment to Eli. He decided that every other week, he would make the drive to Eli’s school, over 150 miles each way, so they could continue their friendship. What used to be an hour commitment turned into nearly a full day, but Mr. Gary was happy to do it because he cherished his time with Eli.
When COVID-19 hit in the spring of Eli’s 4th grade year, Mr. Gary could no longer drive to see Eli on Tuesdays. Luckily, online mentoring became an option for Eli and Mr. Gary, and since September, they’ve been connecting online every Tuesday, just like they always have.
The last year has been unlike anything Mr. Gary or Eli, or the rest of us, have ever experienced. It took some time to get used to their Tuesday hangouts through a computer, but they’re so glad they gave it a try. Distance and a pandemic looked like a hurdle, too tall to overcome. But online mentoring became an opportunity for Mr. Gary and Eli to connect in a new way, giving them both hope for their friendship now and in the future.
January is National Mentoring Month, and we celebrate the commitment and creativity of Kids Hope USA mentors, like Mr. Gary, who continue to show up even when it’s new, challenging, or unpredictable! We are grateful for the thousands of students and mentors that build life-changing friendships through Kids Hope USA programs across the country.