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La Porte County Collaborative celebrates the power of mentoring

La PORTE — Whether it’s spent playing a round of Uno or Monopoly, or sharing a couple of jokes over sandwiches at lunchtime, it takes just a single hour a week for an adult to make an impact on the life of a struggling student.

Representatives of the La Porte County Mentoring Collaborative shared that message with the community during the inaugural “Celebrating Our Youth” luncheon last week at the Silver Palace in La Porte.

The United Way-sponsored program hosted the gathering in celebration of National Mentoring Month, an annual campaign that takes place every January.

Attendees got a chance to learn more about the collaborative, and the positive ways that mentoring changes the lives of troubled children. To drive the message home, a pair of local mentors, together with their mentees, described the impact their relationships have had on each other.

Formed in 2018, the collaborative is a partnership between five county programs: La Porte Community School Corporation’s Slicer Champions, Michigan City Area Schools’ Safe Harbor H40, Youth Service Bureau’s School Buddies, The Boys & Girls Club’s Al Whitlow Experience, and Family Advocate’s Court Appointed Youth Advocate program. Organizers created the alliance to promote mentoring, share best practices and provide more effective mentor training.

The need for mentoring in La Porte County is great, as a quarter of local youth say they feel disengaged from the community, said Sarah Fine, one of the heads of Slicer Champions.

“A student disengaged from their community is kind of left on their own,” she said. “When they are disengaged with their community, they probably don’t have a passion in their life yet. They probably don’t have a direction in their life yet.”

A mentor can help provide guidance the child lacks from others in their life, Fine said.

Statistics show that mentored youth are more likely to stay in school, attend college, participate in sports and extracurricular activities, volunteer in their community, and – perhaps most important – one day serve as a mentor to others, she said.

“They recognize that someone gave to them, and they too, one day, will give to others,” Fine said. “That’s a wonderful gift to give to another person.”

Manuel Alfaro is one a former mentee who is paying it forward.

Once a “little buddy” in YSB’s School Buddies program, when he turned 18, he began volunteering with the organization to give children the same kind of advice he got when he was younger, he said.

For the past four years, Alfaro has made time between work and school every Thursday to meet with his “little buddy,” Kesling Intermediate School student Ethan Youngblood.

The two chat while playing cards or board games – “he beats me every time,” Alfaro joked – with Youngblood telling the older man about his week or how he’s feeling.

“It’s been a great experience. Ethan makes me look forward to it each week,” Alfaro said. “Each time I get to see him, I can feel a smile forming on my face.”

Youngblood said he enjoys his time hanging out with Alfaro, too. Since School Buddies matched them, the student has been more committed to his classes, earning better grades.

“When I was younger, I used to be a bad kid,” Youngblood said. “When I met Manuel, that all changed for me. He changed my life forever.”

La Porte Mayor Tom Dermody, too, finds time in his busy schedule to mentor. Several years ago, he signed up to become a mentor through Slicer Champions, looking for a way to give back for all the support he’s received from others throughout his life.

For the past two years, he has spent lunch every Wednesday with La Porte High School student Amyr Redden. They chat about their lives while playing Connect Four or telling each other jokes – both share a similar sense of humor, Fine said.

“I’m the mentor and he’s the mentee, but I have to tell you, this does more for me than it does him,” Dermody said about their relationship. “I really enjoy it.”

“It feels like Tom is more of a family member to me than a mentor because he’s always there for me,” Redden said. “Whenever I have a problem, we’ll both try to figure it out. He’s been very supportive, and I’ve been very supportive of him. I feel like these next two years will be fun.”

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Spring cleaning in February

Inmates from the Indiana State Prison took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to do a little community service work last week, according to the Mayor's Office. "We are very fortunate to have great weather this winter, but with that comes unfortunate litter," Mayor Duane Parry said.

So a Indiana State Prison Community Service Work crew, under the direction of Officer Bob Storey, assisted with a major cleanup project along the Meijer Drive complex and the corridor along the AMC Theatre property. Numerous bags of refuse were collected and disposed of, ridding the area of unsightly trash and debris, the statement said.

Parry said he would personally like to thank Indiana State Prison Superintendent Ron Neal "for his support of our community, helping make Michigan City a city to be proud of."

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Alinsky Award to Cynthia Davis for "Excellence, Innovation and Service Above Self”

MICHIGAN CITY — The Michigan City Rotary Club on Monday announced Cynthia “Cyndi” Davis will be honored with this year’s Paul J. Alinsky Excellence Award.

Jessica O’Brien, president of the Rotary Club of Michigan City, said, “We are honored to present this award to Cyndi Davis this year.

“She is someone who works hard to meet the needs of this community in a variety of ways – all while showing the excellence, innovation and service above self we, as a club, have come to associate with the Paul J. Alinsky Excellence Award.”

This award is presented in honor of Paul Alinsky, a past Rotary Club President, past Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and founder of Sentinel Alarm Company. Alinsky passed away in 1997 and the award was created to keep his memory alive.

The award is given annually to a person from the Michigan City community who exhibits dedication to community service and excellence, and passion and innovation in their vocation/career – the areas in which Alinsky excelled.

Davis was nominated by Faye Moore and Willie Milsap, board members of the North Central Community Action Agency, which Davis serves as executive director.

The nomination included a long list of community service dedication and commitments, and stated: “Cyndi was actively participating in meetings, fundraising drives, planning conferences and workshops on most of the boards (and) … has been behind the scenes at events in the community most of her adult life.”

Past recipients of the award include Les Radke, Bud Ruby, Duane Mertl, Rotary Service Volunteers, Ron Bensz, Jerry Karstens, Emerson Spartz, Glen Lubeznik, James Welborne, Kathleen Lang, Bernie Scott, Jan Radford, Tom Ringo, Jim Dworkin, Dr. Lisa Hendricks, Marty Corley, Don Babcock, Rotary Club Members, Allan Whitlow and Dion Campbell.

A memorial inscribed with the names of past recipients is on display at City Hall at 100 E. Michigan Blvd.

The selection committee included Rotarians and non-Rotarians, who chose this year’s honoree from among five nominations.

Davis will be honored and presented with a replica of the Paul Alinsky memorial, along with a contribution to a charity of their choice, at Rotary’s meeting at noon on Thursday, Feb. 20, at the Northern Indiana Education Foundation at 402 Franklin St.

This event is open to the public, and lunch is available for $12 per person.