United Way of Summit County has welcomed a new member into its family of community impact programs and initiatives. Created in 2013, the iC.A.R.E Mentoring program provides Akron Public School students in grades K-12 with nurturing and supportive role models.
Unlike other mentoring programs, which generally involve activities outside of school hours, iC.A.R.E works within the school system, coordinating with administrators to ensure that students can spend time with their mentors without taking time away from their academic work.
Since beginning in Summit County three years ago, iC.A.R.E has grown significantly, now serving nearly 300 students with a roster of more than 200 mentors. Volunteer mentors spend one hour per week with each mentee, helping children and young adults excel academically, build confidence and acquire the skills needed to face difficult life challenges.
“It’s a great source of stability for students,” says Jonathan Greer, director of iC.A.R.E Mentoring for United Way. “More than a third of Akron public school students change schools each year, but mentors follow their mentees from school to school.” Indeed, the results are often striking – absenteeism rates for students who are mentored through in-school programs have been shown to decrease by nearly 50 percent.
“It’s simple: kids go to school more when they have a mentor,” adds Greer. “It makes a huge difference when they can spend time with an adult who isn’t a disciplinarian, just a friend.”
It seems as though students agree. The program boasts a retention rate of above 90 percent.
For United Way, the acquisition of iC.A.R.E provides another opportunity to expand its impact in the local community. With the increase in recognition and resources that comes with being a United Way program, the organization hopes to have more than 1000 students involved in iC.A.R.E Mentoring this school year.
United Way has recruited a team of ten AmeriCorps VISTAs to help coordinate volunteer efforts and expand the program. The organization hopes to attract further funding for the program in the future through nontraditional sources such as grants.
Further, United Way will take advantage of its large network of corporate partners whose employees could serve as mentors in the program. Just as with other United Way engagement opportunities, volunteers can gain the satisfaction of helping to improve their communities. Corporations who encourage their employees to participate as mentors can also enjoy the benefits of greater employee satisfaction and a more upbeat and motivated workforce.
Ultimately, the addition of iC.A.R.E to its roster of programs will help United Way continue to advance its mission to improve education across the local community. With more than a quarter of Akron public school students not graduating high school in four years, investments in programs like iC.A.R.E, which help students succeed in school, can make an enormous difference in the lives of children and young people.
“iC.A.R.E is a natural fit for us,” says Jim Mullen, president and chief executive officer of United Way of Summit County. “It will allow us to drive volunteer engagement – consistent with our increased focus on engaging our partners in the work we do – and it will create a measurable impact in the lives of students and families in this community.”
“This program is a great investment in the future of this city,” he adds.
"The difference in our school climate, our students and their performance is marked and measurable," said Akron Public Schools Superintendent David W. James, in talking about iC.A.R.E's influence on grades, attendance and discipline. "We have actually been working with mentoring programs for several years now, and Jonathan's approach is working at APS."
For more information on iC.A.R.E Mentoring, visit www.uwsummit.org/mentor. Individuals who would like to volunteer as mentors should contact Jonathan Greer at [email protected]. Corporate groups should contact Sarah Catherine Teixeira by phone at 330-762-0317 or by email at [email protected].