Ward program matches students with mentors and gets great results
by Kara Hansen
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Combine good food, a high school teen, a seasoned adult, and a Scripture study, and you have the basic recipe for the Theological Reflections mentoring program at Bishop Ward High School here.
“We started the mentoring program last year and we really didn’t know how it would turn out,” said Father Michael Hermes, president of Bishop Ward.
“But after one year, we now can see that this program is really special,” he said.
Unlike the typical mentoring programs that target at-risk teens, Theological Reflections is a spiritual mentoring program — and it’s for students of all backgrounds and family situations.
“This is not for the at-risk students,” said Annie Tompkins, counselor at Bishop Ward High School. “It’s for everyone.
“There are students who do sports, students who are into music, students who are in honors classes. I’m a firm believer that every kid needs a mentor.”
“Our end goal is for every student at Ward to have a mentor,” she added.
Currently, there are 64 students and mentors in the program. Participants start each session with prayer in the larger group, then break into their mentoring pairs for lunch, Scripture study, and discussion.
Rather than leave two practically perfect strangers on their own for an hour, assigned Scripture readings and discussion questions provide some structure to each session.
There is a different theme each month, often based on the liturgical year.
And, there is always food included.
“We try to create an opportunity for fellowship and hospitality by providing a family meal for both the students and mentors,” said Tompkins.
Originally, the mentors were all men from Church of the Ascension in Overland Park who had attended a Christ Renews His Parish retreat and wanted to give something back to others spiritually.
This year, the mentors have been drawn from a number of parishes in the Kansas City area.
“Each mentor commits to meet with their assigned student on a monthly basis for four years — the entire time that student is in high school,” said Tompkins.
For Ascension parishioner Bruce Snider, the commitment is well worth it. Snider is starting his second year of mentoring sophomore Miguel Torres. Though he got involved to serve and share his Catholic faith, Snider feels he has received far more from the Theological Reflections program than he has given.
“It’s really inspiring and encouraging to see Miguel in his faith walk and to see him looking at all his options for his life ahead of him,” said Snider.
“He’s a great kid,” he added, “and I hope our relationship continues even after he’s done with high school.”
Though the two had not known each other at all before the program began, they quickly discovered they had no shortage of things to talk about.
“We talk about our own families and about our lives with each other. It’s a very positive thing,” said Snider. “We spent a lot of time getting to know each other last year.
“Now that we know each other better, I can really see this relationship taking off for the next few years.”
Torres said that while he had not known what to expect from the program initially, he has noticed its positive influence in his life.
“I feel like this has given me a positive attitude and decreased my stress level, too. I pray a lot more often and enjoy going to Mass more than I did before,” said Torres. “I’m really thankful for this program.”
The mentoring pairs discuss far more than their common faith, but always come back to the ways in which their Catholic beliefs permeate whatever they do, a point which is not lost on the sophomore.
“I was kind of nervous entering high school, and in some ways I didn’t think I could be completely myself,” said Torres. “This has really given me a lot of confidence and courage to be myself.”
Encouraging high school students to share and give voice to their faith in a different way is one of the key goals of the Theological Reflections program, said Father Hermes.
“One of the greatest benefits [of the program] is to have our students being able to speak out loud, openly, and proudly about their faith,” he said. “Some of our students don’t get that chance to express their faith at home or in other parts of their lives, but they get that chance here at Bishop Ward, thanks to the spiritual mentoring program.”
Though the mentor pairs meet monthly, there are times when an adult mentor cannot make it during a particular month. But Tompkins said she has seen mentors go above and beyond to make up to their student for their absence.
“One of our mentors couldn’t make the first meeting, so she came to the opening school Mass instead,” said Tompkins. “Others will e-mail me a note to pass along to their student [if they can’t make a session].
“I think it shows how much they enjoy their relationship and think it’s important.”