November Mentor of the Month

Ben with his student, Alejandro

Our November Mentor of the Month is Ben Johns. Ben is a mentor at Carver Elementary School and is in his 6th year of reading with Everybody! Wins Iowa.

Ben reads to his student, Alejandro, each Tuesday over his lunch break.

“It’s a great break from work,” Ben said. “It’s an hour where you don’t really think about projects that you have going on and it’s just a nice break in the week to say ‘I’m going to do something else and clear my mind’, and at the same time help somebody else.”

Being a mentor has been a valuable experience for Ben. He has gotten to work with different students over the years and has been able to watch his students make strides in the program.

“It’s rewarding both for the student and for the adult,” Ben said. “You can have a student for years and really get to know them and have a friendship with them.”

Over time, his students have gained skills in reading. But, they have also gained something more.

“I can definitely tell that the students have gained a greater sense of confidence,” Ben said. “Sometimes they come in and they’re a little shy or quiet or not really sure what to expect. But once you can build a relationship with them, they get more confident, and you can see them then really start to apply themselves and get better at it.”

Ben added that having a one-to-one relationship between a mentor and a student rather than your typical classroom setting is what helps to make the program so successful.

“I just think it helps to have a friend to work with,” Ben said. “I can understand kids having more issues maybe not feeling a connection or a one-to-one friendship with a teacher. Maybe it’s just more of a personal relationship that makes them a little more confident to try, or a little more attention to help them succeed.”

The program has also helped to build his students enthusiasm about reading.

“I’m excited when my kids come in and they’re smiling and they’re excited to read,” Ben said. “A lot of the kids come through here, and you can tell they’re really motivated and excited. They may not even realize they’re getting better, but they’re excited to read.”

And for any potential mentors out there, Ben has a message for you.

“There’s a lot of kids on the waiting list, and a lot of people I think are hesitant to for the commitment for every week,” Ben said. “But if people knew that the program did allow co-mentors that could share responsibility and come every other week, I think that would be an opportunity for more people to get involved.”

Thank you for your service Ben!


October Mentor of the Month

Karla Walsh (left) and her mentee, Amaria (right)

Our October Mentor of the Month is Karla Walsh. Karla is a mentor to a 4th grade student, Amaria, at Walnut Street School. This is Karla’s fourth year with Everybody Wins! Iowa, and her third year reading with Amaria.

Karla works with social media for Better Homes and Gardens at Meredith Corporation during the day, but each Wednesday over her lunch hour, she comes to read with Amaria.

“It’s a really simple thing to do, just spend 45 minutes once a week reading with Amaria,” Karla said. “It’s a lot of fun! I get to hear about her dance classes too, and her schoolwork. So, it’s great.”

Amaria’s favorite kind of books are princess books. She said that she probably read more than 100 of them over the summer!  

“Every other book we read a princess book, and then in between those we read something that’s a little bit different,” Karla said.

Some of Amaria’s favorite non-princess books are “A Crooked Kind of Perfect” by Linda Urban and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” by Ian Fleming.

When asked about how her reading skills have improved since starting to read with Karla, Amaria said that she is much more confident.  She also reads a lot more at home during her breaks from school. Karla also said that Amaria has become much more outgoing.

Karla will continue to be a mentor to Amaria until she ages out of the program at the end of next year. The two have undoubtedly built a very meaningful relationship with one another.

Thank you for everything you do, Karla!

September Mentor of the Month

Tom McBride showing us his Governor’s Volunteer Award

Our September mentor of the month is Tom McBride. Tom is currently a mentor at Windsor Elementary School. He has been mentoring with Everybody Wins! Iowa for over 13 years and was a recipient of the Governor’s Volunteer Award in 2016.

Tom grew up with books and learned early on in his life the importance of literature. Growing up, his mother read to him ever since he could remember.

“(My mother) was a very strong advocate of reading,” Tom said. “As you get older, you realize just how important it is to be able to read and comprehend things. I know that’s one of the reasons why I did well in school was because I was able to read, I liked to read, and I could comprehend what I was reading.”

Tom was nominated for the Governor’s Award by Windsor Elementary School’s Site Coordinator for Everybody Wins! Iowa, Jan Fitzsimons.

“He is a neighbor who wants to give back to his own local school,” Fitzsimons wrote.

During the 2015-2016 school year, Tom was paired with a fourth-grade student named Hai. At the start of the year, Hai was pretty sullen about reading, but with time, Tom helped Hai gain confidence in his reading ability and helped Hai take the reigns of his future.

“Tom realized early on, that his student, Hai, had a keen interest in history, wars, geography and world cultures but was lacking in even the most basic concept of these topics,” Fitzsimons wrote. “Tom sought out Hai’s teacher, asking her for some guidance on genre. Tom brought in his own historical books to spark interest. He, finally, found books of a variety of topics, and before long I saw smiles, interest, and the two of them leaning over the pages of their book. Hai, formerly a refugee, is connecting with his new community and nation.”

Tom says that one of the most interesting things over the number of years that he’s been with the program is the range of students that he’s worked with.

“Some years it’s been a little challenging; some years it’s been easier,” Tom said. “I’ve read with all kinds of students with all different abilities and from all different parts of the world. I should have probably kept a list!”

When asked what it means to be a mentor with Everybody Wins! Iowa, Tom said that it gives him a sense of satisfaction to help kids that are in need since Tom doesn’t have any kids himself.

“I think it’s always important to do things that are not self-absorbed and try and reach out and help other people,” Tom said. “It gives me a sense of satisfaction being able to do that.”

August Mentor of the Month

Ellen Whitlatch, August Mentor of the Month

Our Mentor of the Month for August is Ellen Whitlatch. Ellen has served as a mentor for the past three years at our summer and school-year programs. This summer she was a mentor at Walnut Street School.

As a former elementary teacher, she has a passion for reading and books. She shares this passion weekly with her readers.

Ellen really stepped up to the plate this summer (always with a smile) and read with a different child almost every week. Attendance varies greatly for the students and mentors over the summer, so she graciously read with a child who most needed a mentor.

“I am present for the benefit of the student, and the student helps me grow as a person at the same time,” Ellen said.  “Reading one on one is a wonderful opportunity to give someone your undivided attention and be that one more caring adult in the life of a student. It is truly rewarding. My life has been enriched by developing friendships with the other mentors , our site coordinator, and the students I read with. We look forward to seeing each other once a week. That time is reserved, just for us.”

Thank you, Ellen, you rock!