- Ashley Torkornoo
Truly Living a Life of Significance
COVID-19 has impacted all of us mentally and physically. A group that has arguably been affected the most, yet vastly overlooked, are unprivileged children. Their lives had already been struck with many tragedies and the pandemic only made things worse for some of them.
During these troubling times, one Mount scholar brainstormed a way to better the lives of these children--the Junior Mountaineer program, a mentoring program that allows Mount students to support underprivileged children, was born.
Anna Charocopos (C’22), President of the Criminal Justice Student Association, saw a need in the Frederick community and realized that her fellow students could be the answer. With the help of Dr. Joseph J. Vince, the Director of Criminal Justice Program and Yelena Schmidt (C’23), Charocopos was able to reach Lincoln Elementary School in Frederick.
Officer Rebecca Corrado, recipient of the Reverend James T. Delaney Award from the Mount, helped connect the Criminal Justice Student Association with Heather Quill, a counselor at Lincoln Elementary School. From there, Charocopos’ idea became a reality.
Students who were interested in volunteering had to first go through a screening process. “It was tough and it took a while to get things going because everyone had to have a background check,” Vince noted. Since Mount students are working with children, it was required that everyone had to go through a background check.
From there, students received training from Quill to learn how to best respond to underprivileged children and their trauma. “We were lucky enough that one of our members, Yelena Schmidt, was our program manager and worked with Ms. Quill to put together the training,” said Charocopos.
The last step was connecting Mount students to their mentees. Mentors meet with the children via Zoom once a week. Usually during the Zoom calls, Mount students check up on their mentee, help them with their homework, listen to their stories and any other activity the mentee wants to do virtually. Last semester, the stories that came out of this program brought the mentors to tears.
One mentee mentioned that their grandmother, who was raising them, passed away and not long after, their whole family contracted COVID-19. For a child to see so much death and sickness at such a young age is traumatic, but this program taught children that they are so much more than the trauma they endure. They still have hopes, dreams and a future ahead of them.
Another student had issues communicating and would not talk during class. Once the student got connected with their mentor, they began to open up. They expressed their dream to become an NFL running back and soon began to participate in classes better.
“These kids look up to the Mount students because to them, they are successful,” stated Vince. This experience isn’t only transformative for the mentees but also the mentors.
“Our members had a fantastic time. I had several of them say to me and Professor Vince that they were in tears afterward because these kids have been through so much and they showed them so much love and joy. Just having that one person there can make a difference for them,” remarked Charocopos.
The program was selected by the National Center of School Safety in conjunction with the National Council of Mental Health and Wellbeing as an exemplary school-based program for the nation. This was a big deal because only 20 schools across the country are selected. The program is not slowing down; in fact, it is getting bigger.
Fifty students have already signed up to become mentors. Giving back to those who are less fortunate is at the core of the Mount’s mission and these students have shown that it is never too early to start living a life of significance.