By Marci Lewandowski EBS Contributor

I began mentoring at Ophir Elementary School more than two years ago. Prior to moving to Big Sky, I worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club of Chaffee County in Buena Vista, Colo., and I’ve always enjoyed working with children because of their energy, inquisitive nature and creativity.

When I learned about Bozeman-based Thrive’s CAP mentoring, or the Child Advancement Project, I thought it would be a great opportunity to become more involved in the Big Sky community.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous to begin the program at first. What if my mentee doesn’t like meeting with me? What if he thinks our meetings are boring? What if we run out of things to talk about?

Despite this apprehension, I signed up for the program, went through the training and application process, and was assigned a mentee, a second grade boy. On my first day of mentoring, I picked up my mentee from his classroom. We went to the CAP table and I asked him what he liked.

“Frogs, Nerf guns and video games,” he said. “Sweet,” I thought. Nerf guns were pretty much my favorite toys as a child, and I love frogs too. We’re going to get along great, I realized, and any hesitation I had quickly disappeared.

In addition to playing games and helping him with homework, I enjoy watching my mentee’s interests and skills develop. Frogs are still his favorite, but he’s graduated from playing Candy Land and Connect Four to games that involve building complicated circuits that turn on lights or control sound resonating from speakers. We started with simple spelling and math, and now review questions with compound sentences and grammar as well as long division.

My favorite part about mentoring is seeing my mentee’s face light up when we meet, and it’s been a highlight of each week during the school year. Mentoring is an invaluable experience, not just for the child you are meeting with, but for you as well.

Thrive’s CAP mentoring program provides students a unique opportunity to develop their character and consistent, positive relationships with an adult. Email Julie Grimm at jgrimm@bssd72.org for more information about the Big Sky School District CAP program.