New face brings new life to CARES
Earlier this year, Elkhart Community Schools welcomed Diane Lucchese as the CARES Volunteer Coordinator.
CARES is a long-standing Elkhart Community Schools mentoring program that partners a community member with a child. For the past few years, CARES has focused on literacy in partnership with the United Way. While the United Way partnership and literacy-based programs like the four-week ‘Real Men Read’ will not be going away any time soon, Lucchese has a bigger vision for the year-round CARES program.
“Reading is a critical component to CARES, but there are many other aspects to mentoring,” said Lucchese. “We want to be sure we are giving our students a one-on-one strong foundational relationship with an excellent mentor who will motivate and lift them, who will inspire them, who will show them they are worth the effort, who will care at the beginning of the day, as well as the end.”
“Programs like ‘Real Men Read’ are an excellent way to show kids that there are adults who are great role models and who care, especially adult men,” said Lucchese. “So many of our students come from situations where they need a positive role model – whether it’s socioeconomic, a single parent household, a household where parents work long hours, lack of a safety net, and language barriers. Showing them a positive role model is a great way to start and it truly means to the world to the students. We’re hoping the volunteers in our shorter programs connect with a student in their classroom, and use it as a platform to form a long-term mentorship.”
At last count, the district had about 1,000 CARES mentors. So, what number does Lucchese have in mind?
“If I were to summarize my vision for CARES, it would be that every student who could benefit from a mentor has one,” she said. “In my first weeks with the district, I went to every school building and heard the same thing – ‘we need more volunteers.’ There is a great need for mentors in our community.”
Lucchese is currently brainstorming ideas for growing CARES through community awareness, as well as through alternative offerings like a “Breakfast Buddy” program where mentors would meet their student at school prior to the start of school and work, have breakfast together, and set a positive start for the day while the child is at school, an arrangement that would provide enough time for the mentor to get to work on time.
She’d like to see a special event once a year, as well as additional mentor training to help bring new mentors on board in a way that makes them feel comfortable. She’s hoping to build awareness through increased branding efforts, as well as speaking to service groups and businesses.
While she’s just starting to brainstorm ideas for growth, she isn’t hitting the pause button when it comes to volunteers. “The message I heard from the buildings was loud and clear – our students need positive mentors for a variety of reasons. When they say this, they aren’t looking for volunteers for a few months down the road as they prepare for testing season, they’re looking for mentors as soon as possible. We’re hoping the call is heard in the community.”