ENOSBURG FALLS — Mentors and mentees on Monday afternoon braved the winter winds to help out at Chester’s Promise, a horse sanctuary.
The pairs are involved in Watershed Mentoring, an adult-youth mentoring program for school-aged children in Franklin County.
Typically, they would meet during the school hours at lunchtime or would hang out after school doing all sorts of activities, but yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. With the day off from school, the girls had time for an excursion.
“We were hoping for them to understand the value of community service,” Beth Crane, executive director of Franklin County Caring Communities that oversees the mentoring program, said. “Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We wanted to honor the service part of that day.”
“It seemed like a great fit because most kids resonate with horses,” she said.
The pairs started off the field trip learning about the history of Chester’s Promise. Started almost four years ago, the program works with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office to make sure horses have food, water, shelter and are in good health.
If a horse is without these, the employees at Chester’s Promise work with its owner to teach proper care techniques.
Sometimes the horses are signed over to the sanctuary where they stay as long as necessary to be restored to health. The employees then train the horses and put them up for adoption.
The program was named after Chester, a horse who was rescued in 2001 and never left the farm.
“It’s what you call a failed foster,” Susan McKinstry, the host of the program, said, “because I kept him. He was very afraid of people.”
She said Chester’s prior life was filled with pain and neglect. “At that time, I made him a promise that he would always be cared for,” McKinstry said.
Mentors and mentees yesterday helped shovel manure from two horse shelters on the property. The girls met Donny and Flash, two almost identical miniature horses that were chomping away on an afternoon snack. The horses, with their thick coats, seemed immune to the cold.
Battling the temperatures, the pairs of volunteers got the work done between breaks in a heated room filled with rescue cats and a dog. Inside they learned about the program and the horses: their nature, the care they need and the costs to own one.
It was also a great time to chat and get to know mentors and mentees from other towns.
“Every week we have a bunch of fun,” April said about her mentor, Laura Isham, of St. Albans. “Sometimes we go on hikes with her dog, Ash.”
Other days, they like to make supper together. “I guess the simplest things that other kids would find boring, I find amusing,” she said. “Other than reading.”
Monica from Enosburg typically spends time with her mentor Sarah Hayes having a snack and making creative art projects. “We’re starting on crocheting,” Monica said.
“I talked to a friend of mine and she’s going to give us a tutorial,” Hayes confirmed.
The other pairs do similar activities. Sometimes they visit the library or see a movie. Other times, the fun is had by simply painting each other’s nails.
“We know that kids do better when they have more positive adults in their lives,” Crane said. “Part of that is connecting kids with adults outside of their family.”
The mentee is paired with an adult from the community who has two to four shared interests and is typically from the same town.
“We don’t want to create barriers to their bonding,” Crane explained and distance can sometimes be one.
The intangible things that Watershed Mentoring hopes to accomplish is increasing the girls’ connections to their community and helping push them along to graduate high school and further their career. “That’s something hard to track, but we’re trying,” Crane said.
“Every kid is a kid at Promise,” Crane said. “Every child has amazing potential. We can really make a difference individually by reaching out to them and giving them opportunities that they might not have.”
“I think mentors get out of it as much as they put in,” Crane said, describing the two-way street of mentoring. The partnerships last for at least a year and the hope of Watershed Mentoring is that the pair will continue to meet well after that.
The community service trip is just one of the events organized by Watershed Mentoring for National Mentoring Month. In January, it hopes to highlight mentoring and the positive impact it can have on young lives.
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The Messenger, at the request of the mentoring program, has not provided the full names of the youngest participants.