Careyee Bell already has two biological and two adopted kids of her own. But that didn't stop her from picking up two youngsters in need through Dade County Schools' mentorship program.
She gets her students, a 10-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy, one day a week after school. Together, they eat dinner, go to church or go swimming. Along the way, Bell teaches them manners, how to clean up after themselves and how to treat others.
She attends their school functions, picks them up if their dad can't and stays in touch with teachers on their progress in school.
"I love them. I love doing it," she said. "You go to battle for them if something's going on in their lives or if they've got an issue."
Adults like Bell, a Trenton, Ga., real estate agent, are exactly what Superintendent Shawn Tobin had in mind when he and other administrators dreamed up the new mentorship program, which has grown to about 70 adults in its first year. Its purpose is to give at-risk kids an adult connection for support and ultimately to help see them through to graduation.
"They become their biggest advocates," Tobin said.
Tobin said Dade County used to have a Big Brothers Big Sisters program, though it was overseen in Chattanooga. Their own program allows for local control. And administrators are able to require mentors to commit to staying with their students until they make it to high school graduation.
"In reality, the relationship will probably even continue on from there," Tobin said.
But adults get a lot out of it, too.
Tobin said people stop him at the store or after church thanking him for the chance to work with young students.
Some say it makes them better parents. Others just enjoy it.
Tobin points to the relationship between Kim Van Veldhuizen and Kimmy Harriod and Kimmy's success this year as evidence the program works.
"Here's a girl who it appeared had lost hope," he said. "This is a life-changing situation."
He said he believes that all children, no matter how desperate their circumstances, can lead successful lives.
"The day we say a child can't make it, we need to get out of public education," he said.
Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249.
Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...