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Fort Dodge schools seek mentors

Adult volunteers help mold students’ futures through BRIDGES

January 25, 2010
By EMILIE NELSON, Messenger staff writer

Sometimes a student needs a little extra motivation to succeed academically and socially. In the Fort Dodge Community Schools, The BRIDGES mentoring program serves that purpose.

Started in 1994 as a school-based youth program. BRIDGES works to partner students with local adults with whom they can establish positive and encouraging relationships to help them thrive. Participating students range in age from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Students are referred to the program by their teachers, counselors and principals.

"The kids all come from a number of different backgrounds. They have a variety of needs," said Corey Moody, mentoring coordinator for Fort Dodge Community Schools.

The BRIDGES program has more than 100 active mentors donating one hour of time per week to better the lives of the students they work with, and more mentors are welcome to join, Moody said.

"We have a waiting list of students," he said. "And we have a need for more male mentors."

Mentors and mentees spend time participating in a number of activities from sharing lunch to help with homework.

"It all depends on the individual needs of the student," said Moody.

Most mentors are local business professionals, he said.

Phil Gunderson, owner of Gunderson Funeral Home and Cremation Services in Fort Dodge has been involved as a mentor with BRIDGES for about 10 years. His mentee was in kindergarten when the pair was first matched up and is now a freshman at Fort Dodge Senior High.

" We've been through a lot of growing together," Gunderson said of his mentee. "We've become good friends over the years. It's a very rewarding thing that has become a part of my life."

Sue Hirschman, human resource manager at Hy-Vee, has been volunteering her time with BRIDGES since 1999. The teenage girl she works with was in second grade when they met and is now a senior in high school.

"Watching and helping her grow into the person she has become is so satisfying," Hirschman said.

Hirschman said when her mentee was younger she would spend time with her at school doing a lot of reading and helping with homework, but as the student has grown, she established a trusting relationship with Hirschman.

"We talk a lot about every day life things," Hirschman said. "The more she got to know me, the more she knew she could come talk to me."

Gunderson also spent a lot of time working with his mentee in a school setting, but as he entered high school the two began to spend more time together outside of school.

"We've gone to some Iowa State basketball games, or just have lunch together," he said. "Right now, he's injured, so I've been helping his mother transport him to and from school."

Both Gunderson and Hirschman have enjoyed the rewards of being a mentor and have encouraged others to get involved,

"My wife, son, and several of our staff have become mentors," Gunderson said.

"It's a rewarding experience, anyone can give it a shot and have leave a good impression on another's life," said Hirschman.

"This is one of those things where you don't need to have any special skills," Gunderson said. "All you have to do is be yourself and have a little spare time each week."

Anyone interested in becoming a mentor can contact Corey Moody at 574-5469.

Contact Emilie Nelson at (515) 573-2141 or



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