Sam Nelson: making a difference through mentoring

February 18, 2008

By Jen Bakken
Staff Writer

Mentors play an important role in the lives of children. This relationship of trust brings young people together with caring adult volunteers who offer support and guidance.

Delano Public Schools has a program called Connecting Links Mentorship that began in 1997. This program provides mentoring opportunities between adult volunteers and selected students.

The relationship is intended to nurture academic, social, and emotional skills in students. This results in a positive environment in school, home, and the community.

The students develop a bond with the adult mentor, who becomes a role model. While the mentor fosters good citizenship skills, the students will gain self confidence, resulting in positive growth socially and academically.

All mentors are volunteers who meet with the children during or after school and even away from school property with parent permission.

“We are in great need of male mentors,” explained Marie Techam, Delano Middle School and High School social worker. “We have boys on a waiting list right now.”

There are many challenges for the youth of today, and the relationship between an adult mentor and a student will have many positive effects including improvements in grades, school attendance, and relationships.

Sam Nelson of Delano was approached by Dale Vander Linden about becoming part of the Connecting Links Mentorship program. Vander Linden has been involved with the program, and it didn’t take Nelson long to decide he wanted to volunteer in this way, too.

Now, after nearly eight years, he has volunteered to spend his time with six boys in the school district.

“I think it’s an opportunity to help these boys,” Nelson said. “Someone helped me when I was young, so it’s like payback.”

While it is a commitment, he is quick to point out that it doesn’t take too much time. He spends under an hour with each boy once per week. In the past, he has taken boys on trips to baseball games, but most of the mentoring happens at school.

Whether it is having lunch together, playing tic-tac-toe, chess, or checkers, the time is important to both mentor and mentee.

Currently, he mentors two boys in the district. One of these boys is Drew Solomonson, a fifth grade student at Delano Middle School. Drew admits that he didn’t know what a mentor was at first, but now looks forward to their visits.

“Sam has been with me since I was in elementary school,” Solomonson said. “I like playing games with him. I had never played chess before, and I’m getting better.”

Every Monday, Sam walks into the middle school office, signs in as a visitor, and waits for Drew to be excused from class.

The pair walk to the cafeteria together, get their lunch, and return to the middle school commons area. While they eat lunch, they talk about school, home, or friends. Then they play chess, checkers, or other games.

While in elementary school, many students would crowd around the pair while they played games and tell them what moves they should make.

Sometimes, students ask Drew who Sam is, but it doesn’t bother him.

“He can just tell them that I’m someone who beats him at chess,” laughed Sam, while Drew laughed right along with him.

Having moved to the area 10 years ago, with his wife, Jody, Sam has been involved in the community in many ways. In his retirement, he has served on the Delano Municipal Utilities Commission, as chairman of the Community Education Advisory Council, and is a member of the Delano American Legion.

He is also active in DFL politics, the Delano United Methodist Church and delivers Meals on Wheels monthly.

“It’s all good,” he said. “I like to keep busy.”

Mentoring holds a special place in his heart, and he enjoys playing an important role in the lives of these boys and being their friend.

“I hope more people will become mentors,” said Sam. “They don’t have to be here every week. If they travel, even just sending postcards is great.”

There are many ways to connect with students as a mentor; tutoring, talking, attending cultural and sporting events, playing games, having meals, fishing, shopping, cooking, reading, working together or sharing hobbies.

The possibilities are endless. Sam encourages people in the community to reach out, become a mentor, and make a difference in the life of a child.

If you are interested in becoming a mentor, contact Techam at (763) 972-3365 ext. 3518, or e-mail mtecham@delano.k12.mn.us.

There will also be a gathering at the middle school Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. to thank current mentors and welcome others interested in making a difference in the life of a child.

The gathering starts at 6:00 for mentors to enjoy pizza together and talk.

“The purpose of the meeting is for new mentors to talk with mentors that have been doing it for a while to gain knowledge about the process, information about what it’s like, and just talk about their experiences,” Techam said.

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