The highlight of the week for many children at Albion's Harrington Elementary School is the one-hour visit by their mentor, who happens to be a student from Albion College. Three senior members of the men's basketball program – Sean Hendon, Luke Walker, and Bob Wernet – were among 25 Albion students who recently received Michigan Campus Compact Heart and Soul awards for their dedication to community service. They were also among the recipients of the Jessie Longhurst Rotary Service Award.
The mentorship program, now known as Jessie's Gift in memory of the 2002 Albion High School graduate and former Albion College student-athlete, was developed and is currently run by Peg Turner, the wife of former Albion men's basketball coach Mike Turner.
Peg Turner started the program when she was a kindergarten teacher in the Albion Public Schools so members of the men's basketball program could learn that success wasn't solely determined by wins on the hardwood while the schoolchildren gained a positive role model.
"Ms. Turner nominated us for the awards after being impressed by how dedicated we came to it," Wernet, an economics and management major from Rockford, said. "The three seniors haven't missed many weeks with their mentees over the last four years."
In a typical weekly visit, each mentor spends the first 45 minutes assisting the student with classwork and the remaining time is devoted to talking to the student or playing a game.
"My kid is really excited to see me every week and that makes it easy to go," said Hendon, an economics and management major from Fremont who already has an accounting job lined up with Ernst & Young. "He's got quite the sense of humor, so I get to talk with him, joke around with him, while he's doing his homework. He has really progressed in school as I've been there. It is very rewarding to see that – maybe what I've done has helped him. When we are doing math and I can interact with him I have lost track of time.
"I think the last 15 minutes are the best time because it allows me to build a relationship with him," Hendon added. "He always asks what it is like in college so we talk about school a lot – what I'm doing and what I'm going to do. I try to encourage him by asking what he wants to do when he grows up. He asks about me playing basketball once in a while."
While he's completed his collegiate eligibility and will be getting married over the summer, Hendon said he hopes to continue to use basketball as an avenue to work with kids.
Walker, a Cedar Springs product who is majoring in mathematics and concentrating in secondary education, said he has become like a big brother to his mentee. The mentors and mentees pose for a picture late in the school year to provide a lasting image of the bond that was formed.
"Most of the time I think my mentee teaches me more than I teach him," Walker said. "It's good to work with the younger kids and see how they think. It is a progression, and if I can experience how younger kids think I can relate that to when they get older.
"The mentee becomes your buddy. It's almost like hanging out with one of your friends you only get to see once a week, so you enjoy that hour," Walker added. "It will be tough to leave the kid [when I graduate] because I'll probably never see him again. I was thinking he'll have another mentor and I hope that mentor is good and has fun with the kid. You want the best for him, to protect him and to have an interview process for the next mentor."
Turner's goal for developing the mentor program has been met according to the three seniors.
"The academic awards are great, but an award for impacting someone's life means so much more," Hendon said. "Giving back to the community and to children is underrated."
Other Albion students receiving the MCC’s Heart and Soul Award included: Angela Bennett, Anna Bickerstaff, Tsiporah Davis, Heather de Bari, Alexis Demchyna, Chelsea Denault, Amanda Douglas, Eric Engelman-Woods, Josiah Fallot, Jessica Forzano, Elise Gotham, Pryce Hadley, Christian Jackson, Alex Kuhn, Kendall Maddox, Shanti Madhavan, Kayla Shupe, Emily Stephens, Jennifer Tagg, Patrick Underwood, Gabriella Vezzosi, and Cody Watson Yothers.