As assistant superintendent for personnel and pupil services with Union County Schools, Lewis Jeter has a plate full of responsibilities to keep him busy.
But at least once a month, Jeter goes to Excelsior Middle School to sit down and talk with three students about the video games they are playing and what sports, movies, foods and people they like and dislike.
Jeter is a volunteer with the Union County Schools Mentoring Program, where adults take time to make a difference in a child's life.
“You give them involvement and allow them to talk about what they are interested in,” Jeter said. “Sometimes you find out a big thing is missing in their lives - contact. Nobody is talking to them. Sometimes families get so involved in making a living that they forget to deal with their children. None of us as a parent want to think our child is involved in something that is not good and wholesome.”
The program has been in place formally for two years and efforts are being made to expand it.
“We're trying to work with youth to give them some direction,” Jeter said. “Parents are notified; we don't do this outside the parents' knowledge. We communicate with the children, work with them and help them develop themselves; help them discover the good qualities they have inside themselves. The people working as mentors are people who have exemplified themselves by being good citizens.”
Several people and at least one group - Men of Action from Jonesville - have agreed to go through mentoring training and volunteer with students. The class is taught by Isaac McKissick, a Union native and West Point graduate who works for the Spartanburg County District 7 School District. So far, the mentors are involved at Excelsior, Jonesville elementary and middle schools, Buffalo Elementary School and Foster Park Elementary. One of the men, Modest Keenan, has been mentoring at Excelsior Middle School for around 20 years, long before an organized group was developed.
Jeter said he got involved at the request of Patty Hughey, gifted and talented teacher for Union County Schools
“She approached me and said, ‘I've got somebody I want you to help,'” Jeter said.
Mrs. Hughey said she has a passion for wanting to help children who need intervention and understanding in their lives.
“All I did was ask these wonderful adults, ‘Could you come in and speak with my group?'” Mrs. Hughey said. “Now they are paired up and it's more one on one.”
Mrs. Hughey said she has had parents come in and ask how their child can become part of the mentoring program.
“It's not that their parents don't care, it's just that with our society, everything can be so overwhelming,” she said. “Parents are working two jobs and don't have the resources necessary to work with their child over communication issues.”
Mrs. Hughey thanked mentors Kenny Sims and T.J. Booker, who volunteer at Excelsior Middle School three days a week.
“I am so pleased with the participation of each of our mentors this year including Mickey Gist, Randy Crocker, Lewis Jeter, Mitchell Lewis, Naomi Hunter and Modest Keenan,” she said. “We have several more who have enlisted and will soon start working and we are so excited to incorporate them into our school family. It is a joint effort with the community to provide each child with positive role models because we all need guidance from others in our life at one time or another.”
Mrs. Hughey said she has been told by those volunteering with the program that working with a child is a huge commitment, but the rewards far outweigh the time invested.
“Everyone wants to feel validated,” she said. “Children have the same need as well. They will flourish under the attention. It only takes a few minutes a week to drop by and check on a child. I had four mentors come through the door at Excelsior Middle School today. I don't know who had the biggest smile, the child or the adult”
(Anyone interested in becoming a mentor may contact Betty Rogers at 429-1740, extension 140.)