By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Payton Manente of Plainville High School looked up to Ryan McEleney with gratitude and appreciation, recognizing all the times his mentor has supported him.
“I learned a lot about dedication—to not give up,” said Manente, who is currently a sophomore. “He taught me things I never really thought I could do.”
For the past four years, McEleney has served as Manente’s mentor. From the time Manente was in seventh grade, his mentor has helped him open up. Whether they play basketball or just talk for an hour at school, McEleney has devoted time each week listening to his mentee and being supportive. Manente now runs cross country and track.
“I’ve taught him things, he’s taught me things,” Manente said.
“I’ve learned a lot,” added McEleney. “It’s helped me broaden my perspective to people with different interests.”
Last week, McEleney was one of 30 mentors recognized during the volunteer program’s annual Mentor Fun Night. During the event, mentors and mentees, along with their families, had the opportunity to spend more time together while watching a live bubble artist, put on a show. This year, the volunteer program received a grant from the Elizabeth Norton Trust Fund to put on the event.
“It’s a day for us to spend together,” Manente said.
For Linda Dombrowski, being a mentor has also made a positive impact on her. Now that her mentee is in the fifth grade, Dombrowski said watching her grow as an individual has served as a rewarding experience.
“I think I made a difference,” said Dombrowski, adding her mentee has become more outgoing. “She’s growing into this lovely young woman.”
During the beginning of the event, each mentor stood up in the cafeteria of Linden Street School as their mentee greeted them with a flower, not only expressing words of appreciation but also sharing each other’s stories about all the times spent together.
“No matter what’s going on, I can always talk to him,” said Manente during a brief speech before his peers and other mentors.
After recognizing the trust fund that financed the event, Sue Bradley, the volunteer program coordinator, formally recognized the mentors and the number of years they have served. Whether they served for two years or 23 years, Bradley also expressed her gratitude for the time each mentor devotes to make a difference in the lives of their mentees. Once a mentor herself, Bradley has seen firsthand the kind of relationships that mentors and mentees establish.
Bradley said the goal of the Mentor Fun Night is to bring the mentees and their families together with their mentors—to get to know each other better. Between team building activities and games like “Minute to Win It,” the Mentor Fun Night event has allowed mentors to interact with their mentees in a variety of ways for years.
This year, the event featured Keith Michael Johnson, a professional “bubbleologist” who uses bubbles of all sizes to develop create different sculptural images (like snowmen) as he explains the science behind the magic.
“We’re so excited because it gives the opportunity for the families of the mentees to meet the mentors and vice versa,” said Bradley, adding the mentor program has continued strong for 23 years in the Plainville school district, with a total of over 50 mentors today. “The night is really about connecting the families of the students.”