What started about 10 years ago with a single match has grown into the biggest and strongest school mentoring program in the area.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northcentral Wisconsin partners with five local school districts to match high school students with younger counterparts, and D.C. Everest Senior High students take it seriously. At Everest, 27 high schoolers mentor 27 elementary and middle school students in the district each week.
The time commitment is small - just one hour each week - but BBBS program director Linda Koepke said each mentoring session has a big impact on the younger students. Most of the students just need support and someone to look up to, and it's cool knowing Everest students make that happen.
In addition to Everest, the local district with the highest participation rates, BBBS has school-based mentoring programs in Mosinee, Wausau, Merrill and Spencer school districts. Merrill has 24 high school student volunteers; Wausau has 11, and Mosinee has 16.
Marcia Tokarz, D.C. Everest Senior High guidance counselor, said Everest students recognize the importance of volunteering beyond its benefit as a college-application booster. Some students go on to become mentors themselves after having been mentored while in elementary school.
"I think it's almost become part of the Everest culture, a tradition," Tokarz said.
The high school students meet with the younger students once a week for an hour and spend time working on homework together or doing simple activities - such as playing a game or painting fingernails.
The fact that the teenagers want to take time from their days to help out younger students is really heartwarming. Hopefully, the volunteers' actions will have a domino effect among other students.
Many of the younger students come from homes in which parents have lost their jobs or can't give their children the attention they need - that's where the mentors help out. It was clear from my interview with Koepke that she's very proud of the students at Everest.
"These are just such good kids," she said. "They are truly role models, and the younger students really look up to them and do better in school."
Katie Hoffman covers Wausau's south metro area for Daily Herald Media and the Everest Herald. Have a suggestion for a story Katie should be chasing? Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @katielhoffman.