A local elementary school and a church's partnership with a nationwide organization has shown to have a positive impact in the lives of several area children. 

Kids Hope USA provides 12 Griffith Elementary students and one Washington Junior High student with a mentor from Bethany Christian Church. The program pairs mentors from the church's congregation with students, who then spend one hour a week during school working with the students on their academic and social skills. 

"It's something that changes the life of a child and there is no better use of your time or effort than that," local coordinator Vicki Murello said. 

The program began in Washington last year when Murello was asked by WCS Superintendent Daniel Roach to speak with all the elementary principals about the program. She said Roach decided he wanted to give the program a try and selected Griffith as the pilot school. 

Once the school was chosen, the mentors and students were carefully chosen and paired together based on the student's individual needs. 

"The kids are identified by the schools, social workers and teachers who refer them when they realize they are at-risk and need extra help with reading or math skills or maybe they are going through something and need one-on-one attention," Murello elaborated. "If we have a young man say his dad is in prison and he doesn't have a male role model, we'll attach a male mentor that can be that positive role model."

The students and mentors then work together during school, but can meet outside school hours with parental permission through the school. The duos work on packets Murello said the teachers have generously prepared. While one student may be working on vocabulary, another may be working on their reading level. Murello said the groups are also given social time where they can play games and talk with the students about various topics. The mentors continue to work with the same student one-on-one throughout each school year and as the student advances to a different grade or building within the school system.

"The reason a mentor only takes on one student is we feel it's very important for the student to know they are special," Murello said. 

During her presentation at the school board meeting, she explained the program has received rave reviews from the various parties involved. 

"We've seen very positive feedback from teachers, parents and mentors," Murello expanded. "Everyone comments how the students have excelled in areas they've been focusing on. I had one mentor comment the teacher told them the child has better attendance. On Kids Hope days the kids make it a point to be at school that day. We've had parents say they've seen changes in the student's behavior."

Although the program partners schools with churches, the organization commits to staying within the U.S. Department of Education guidelines regarding the separation of church and state. All mentors receive specialized training from the local coordinator and Kids Hope USA to ensure the policies are followed. 

Murello, who was a coordinator in Terre Haute for 10 years, said she hopes the program will catch on and other area schools and churches will partner together through the program. 

To become a participant in the program, the church pays a one-time affiliation fee, which covers the cost of the program director's training. That person then uses the training to work with the mentors before they are assigned a student at the host school. 

Murello said any churches interested in learning more or starting the program may contact her at 812-610-1700 Ext. 116 or via email at vmurello@bethanycc.com

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