Moms and Mentors

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As flowers bloom and flood waters recede, our thoughts turn to events that we observe each spring, Mother’s Day, Graduations, and Father’s Day.  It’s pretty universal.  Even if you aren’t a parent, you have parents, and even if you don’t know someone who is graduating, you undoubtedly have memories of your own school days.

As I think of Mother’s Day, I think of a story from a Hoosier Hills Literacy League volunteer who helped out with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library a few years ago.  To put it in context, it was during a time when the funding was briefly interrupted.  Let’s call the story, “What One Mom Did.”

ImgLib logo colorI was leaving the Aurora Public Library on a Monday morning errand for the Literacy League when a woman and her little boy struck up a conversation with me.  She had noticed I was carrying Imagination Library books, and she told me her story:
“Every month when a book was delivered, the mail carrier would leave it on the front door step and every month my son would race up to the front doorstep to retrieve it.  Giddy with anticipation, he would unwrap the book and refuse to let me enter the house until we both sat on the front porch and read the book cover to cover.  He was so upset when I told him the books wouldn’t be coming any more.  I knew I had to come up with a creative solution so we wouldn’t lose this special time together!  I decided to go to garage sales and pick out books I thought he would enjoy.  Now each month, I have been placing those garage sale books on the front porch just like the mailman and we sit together and read them.  I cannot wait for the program to resume because he just loves it so much.”

From my perspective as a recent college graduate, it was one of those awesome random moments when I got to see the impact of a program and my small part in it. My conversation with this mom showed me that the Imagination Library helped her create a reading ritual, one that was so important to her and her son that she refused to let it end, even when the funding did.

Since the Dolly Parton Imagination Library came to Dearborn County in 2008, over 2,000 local children have received a book in the mail each month, at no cost to them.  Because of local funding, most recently from both the Aurora Public Library Foundation and the Lawrenceburg Public Library Foundation, over 74,000 books have been delivered!  That means that moments like the one above – potentially tens of thousands of them – have been happening between moms, dads, grandparents, and caregivers and local children.  These moments build relationships and a love of reading that can last a lifetime.

These moments can last a lifetime, but sometimes as a child grows, things happen that threaten to derail the education process.  Perhaps it’s an illness of a parent, a divorce, a learning disability, or a move to another school. That’s where mentors come in.

Miriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary defines a mentor as

“a trusted counselor or guide.”


According to the Mentoring Effect, a 2014 study by MENTOR, the National Mentoring Partnership, “The consistent, enduring presence of a caring adult in a young person’s life can be the difference between staying in school or dropping out, making healthy decisions or engaging in risky behaviors, and realizing one’s potential or failing to achieve one’s dreams.” (

We really don’t need a research study to confirm this, because we intuitively know that adults, whether there are part of a formal mentoring program or not, can have a huge impact on a young person’s life.

There are many formal mentoring programs, such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters.  The Hoosier Hills Literacy League also trains volunteers to work with students who have reading challenges, and often that provides a sort of mentoring relationship.

As wonderful as these programs are, many people today hesitate to make a commitment to a formal mentoring or tutoring program.  Valuable relationships can also be built naturally without the structure of an official program.  Neighbors and family friends often have the opportunity to encourage young people – even a kind word and a sincere interest in a young person’s life can make a difference.

Several years ago I went to a conference sponsored by State Farm Insurance on the theme of Drop out Prevention.  I came home with a round magnet  with a big “:17,” around which was the statistic “Every 17 minutes a youth drops out of high school.”  I was new in this literacy work, and the vision of that magnet sticks in my head – much longer that it stuck on my filing cabinet.

How long take to have a meaningful contact with a young person?  That depends on each one of us.  Whether it’s sitting down to read a book with a little one, engaging the child of a friend in conversation, tutoring or becoming a “Big” through Big Brothers Big Sisters, taking a few minutes to connect with a young person can make a world of difference in their life.

There are those in our community who are called to this work full-time, and you can honor them by making a donation to the Dearborn County Imagination Library on their behalf.  For a donation of just $36, you can support the monthly delivery of these books to one child for an entire year.  We’ll even send a card!  Click on the link to learn more!