• Rural Education Partners mentor and Quality Administrator at Sibelco, Sharon Blankenship, left, and Angel West spend time together at Mitchell High School each week. (Photo submitted)
    Rural Education Partners mentor and Quality Administrator at Sibelco, Sharon Blankenship, left, and Angel West spend time together at Mitchell High School each week. (Photo submitted)

‘Lunch Buddy’ program beneficial to student, mentor

In his book, “How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations,” Marc Freedman explains what it takes to be a good mentor.  

“Showing up and shutting up: Being consistent and listening. You don’t have to be a charismatic superhero. You don’t need an advanced degree. It’s more about the relationship than imparting sage advice. The key is not being interesting. The real key is being interested – being present and paying attention.”

Harris and Bowman middle school counselor Matt Hollifield agrees.  

“The mentors who share their time with our students are incredible,” Hollifield said. “They show unconditional positive regard to our students. They simply listen, listen, listen.”  

Hollifield and Mitchell High School Resource Officer Justin Biddix recently spent time with some Lunch Buddy mentors over dinner at The Penland School of Craft, listening and sharing advice and resources with some of the adults willing to spend less than an hour a week to make a lifetime of difference. 

“Penland is just one of the community partners that make mentoring programs like Lunch Buddies work,” said Lori Gilcrist, director of Rural Education Partners of Mitchell County, who helps facilitate the program. “We partner with individuals and groups to make working with schools and students a smooth, painless process.”

The program often has as much of an impact on the mentors as it does the mentee.

“I feel incredibly lucky to live in a place where the need for this kind of mentorship is recognized and supported,” said Cami Leisk, gallery coordinator at the Penland School of Craft and Lunch Buddy mentor.  “Listening to Matt and Justin, I was so moved by how much care and gentle consideration goes into every relationship the Harris Middle School and Mitchell County Schools staff maintains with their students.”  

Gilcrist agrees.

“We all feel what Cami is talking about every time we walk into a school office,” Gilcrist said. “Sandy Vaughn and Chris English make us all feel so welcome at Harris; it’s like that all over Mitchell County Schools. Not only are mentors developing relationships with students but they are also building ties between our public schools and all parts of our community. Our kids need all of us, and Mitchell County needs our kids. 

“Mentoring is a win-win-win. When people from places such as Penland School of Craft, local industry such as Sibelco, civic groups such as Spruce Pine Kiwanis, our church communities or even individuals take time out of their day to join with school personnel to support our kids, it makes our whole community stronger. Study after study shows adult mentors get as much out of the relationship as students do. Mentors even live longer.”

Penland School of Craft Books and Paper Studio Coordinator Sarah Rose Lejeune said she semi-jokingly refers to the student she works with as her mentor.

“During our time together I feel less like a mentor imparting some knowledge and like I have gained some deeper perspective myself,” she said.” This program provides an exceptional opportunity to glimpse the world through another’s eyes. No matter what else I have going on, it feels such a special thing to have time carved out for the simple act of sharing a meal with a person I care about. Those Wednesday lunches at Harris truly are one of the best parts of my week.”  

Dakota Norris is maintenance planner at Sibelco’s Crystal Plant and a 2008 graduate of Mitchell High School. 

After receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from North Carolina State University and his master’s from Western Carolina University, he worked at Altec for four years before joining Sibelco a little more than a year ago. Norris can be found at Mitchell High School on Friday afternoons sharing lunch with his mentee, Anthony Hughes.  

“For me, it was all about providing an opportunity I felt I didn’t have as a student,” Norris said. “I wanted to make myself available for students to answer many of the same questions I had at that age.”  

Call Gilcrist at 828-467-0970 or email lori.gilcrist@edpartnersmc.org for more information about how to become a mentor to a Mitchell County student. 

The MItchell News

Mailing Address: PO Box 339 
Spruce Pine, NC 28777 
Phone: 828-765-7169
Fax: 828-765-1616