UNT student volunteering as a mentor.
Amy Simon, director of the Center for Leadership and Service, is one of the first UNT staff members to sign up for Mentor Denton, a new initiative between UNT and Denton community partners to help 10,000 at-risk schoolchildren.
As a mentor, Simon will spend one hour a week working one-on-one with a student in grades K-12 this school year. Through Mentor Denton, UNT and its community partners -- United Way of Denton County, Community in Schools of North Texas, the city of Denton and Denton Independent School District (DISD) -- hope to impact the lives of at-risk schoolchildren by putting them on the path to success.
Starting in fall 2013, the first phase of Mentor Dentonwill help 1,000 at-risk DISD students by matching them with volunteer mentors from the community. UNT's Center for Leadership and Service has committed to sign up 500 student, faculty and staff volunteers, and community partners have agreed to sign up an additional 500 volunteers from the Denton area.
"We live in a world where too many children feel lonely, bullied, depressed or insignificant," says Dana Smith, chief executive officer for Communities in Schools of North Texas. "If you have an hour a week that you can devote to a child in need, the relationship and influence that you develop could literally change the course of that child's life. A positive adult role model can increase students' academic performance, school attendance and overall school performance."
Simon says Mentor Denton is an important initiative. A 2012 United Way of Denton County Needs Assessment indicates that one in three students is at risk of dropping out of school and needs a mentor, she says.
"It's powerful to realize how one person can make a difference in a child's life by giving one hour a week," she says. "It's such an incredible impact to encourage them to succeed."
Mentor Denton is one of the first community projects to come out of UNT's Engagement Advisory Committee, a subgroup of the President's Community Engagement Council. The advisory committee includes business and civic leaders and is charged with setting a 20-year vision for community engagement between UNT and the Denton community. Partnerships will be built on mutual strengths and resources to meet long-term and short-term goals that impact the North Texas region's quality of life -- from supporting diversity, green living and job placement to promoting cultural distinction and mentorship.
"We're excited about the positive impact that Mentor Denton will have on the lives of children in need," says Kevin Roden, advisory committee chair, assistant director of student life for UNT's Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science and a Denton City Council member. "This is an opportunity to engage community members who are interested in helping to keep students in school and learn the skills they need to succeed in life."
UNT students, faculty and staff and community members can sign up to become mentors through mentordenton.org. Mentors are required to clear a criminal background check before becoming a mentor at Denton public schools participating in the initiative. Approved mentors will spend the 2013-14 school year working with students at least one hour a week.