MASSILLON, Ohio — The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially tough on students - disrupting their school schedules and separating them from their friends and teachers. But one non-profit in Stark County dedicated to mentoring students has come up with another way to connect with those kids this summer.
The Legacy Project of Stark is a middle school mentoring program that matches adult, volunteer mentors with students in Stark County.
Founder Eugene Lingenhoel believes it's vital for kids to build strong relationships with adults they can trust and are more likely to be successful because of them. He says those relationships are especially needed now when students have become so isolated.
The non-profit started back in 2015.
“I was going into Lehman Middle School in Canton city, and just kind of being a mentor there by myself, and just really saw the need of the kids needing another adult role model in their lives. And so it kind of brainstormed out of that,” Lingenhoel said.
The program started with 30 kids and has since grown to 1500 kids with 250 adult mentors across 13 schools in Stark County.
Mentors are adults from the local community who are recruited, trained, and have their backgrounds checked by the Legacy Project. Then, typically they go into the schools during the students’ lunch break to build relationships with the students by encouraging them to make smart decisions, keep up with their studies, and work on any negative behavior.
“In the school system, the kids are kind of identified by the different counselors or the teachers that maybe they're new students in the school, or maybe they're just needing a friend or somebody to hang out with and,” Lingenhoel said. “And then from there, the kids start talking to one another, and then it just becomes, hey, there's this cool thing that we're doing at lunch break, and we get candy, and we have fun, and we play games and learn different things.”
The pandemic disrupted that school-based program, so now the group is holding summer sessions. Twenty-four kids come to their facility in Massillon every Saturday for four-hour sessions where they do different activities and have meaningful conversations.
“This morning, we did like a craft where they're kind of doing a hands-on where they're painting something. Today, they actually tie-dyed masks this morning for one of the crafts. And then we do an actual program, a curriculum part of it where they'll break down into small groups of five or six and they go with their mentor and they'll talk about friendships,” Lingenhoel said.
Lingenhoel says keeping the program going amidst the pandemic is important for the students’ development.
“These kids are really just starved for some interaction with not only their peers, but with mentors that are actually encouraging them and, you know, almost making them feel like it's gonna be okay,” Lingenhoel said. “There's, you know, we work hard at trying to subside just the fear of everything that's going on with this pandemic right now. And so we really feel like even now, it's more important than then maybe it was maybe a few months ago.”
The Legacy Project of Stark is hoping that they will be allowed back into schools this fall. They’re also planning to have programs three days a week at their facility and will be reaching out to students who are exclusively doing online learning. The program will consist of homework help, personal development, and fun activities in a safe, small group environment.
The group is hoping to expand the program even further to get more mentors and students involved. More information can be found on the Legacy Project of Stark’s website.
This story is part of The Rebound: Northeast Ohio, News 5's initiative to help people through the financial impact of the coronavirus by offering one place to go for information on everything available to help and how to access it. We're providing resources on:
Getting Back to Work - Learn about the latest job openings, how to file for benefits and succeed in the job market.
Making Ends Meet - Find help on topics from rent to food to new belt-tightening techniques.
Managing the Stress - Feeling isolated or frustrated? Learn ways to connect with people virtually, get counseling or manage your stress.
Doing What's Right - Keep track of the way people are spending your tax dollars and treating your community.