2013-12-27 / Front Page

Dynamic duos

South Portland, Unum program exemplify National Mentor Month
By Sean P. Milligan
Contributing Writer


Irine Libby and Madison Strout took a moment out of their weekly lunch time to pose for a picture. The two were paired through a program that involves Unum and South Portland schools. (Sean P. Milligan photo) Irine Libby and Madison Strout took a moment out of their weekly lunch time to pose for a picture. The two were paired through a program that involves Unum and South Portland schools. (Sean P. Milligan photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – For eight years the South Portland School Department and Unum have partnered in a mentoring program for local youth where students in the program spend an hour each week at Unum offices on outer Congress Street in Portland with their mentors.

Students who are eligible for the program are from Skillin Elementary and Memorial Middle Schools. Each child is paired with a Unum employee using an “interest inventory.” Identical tests are given to willing mentors and their soon-tobe mentees.

The students in the program are primarily coming from at-risk circumstances, but they must be doing well in school and not have behavior issues. Teachers and guidance councilors usually refer students they believe could benefit from an additional adult in their life to Molly Aldrich, head of the mentoring program and director of volunteer services for South Portland schools.


Amy Bruns has been Caitlin Adams' mentor through a school program since Caitlin Adams was in fourth grade. The two were paired through a program that involves Skillin Elementary, Memorial Middle School, and Unum that helps South Portland students transition into adolescence. (Sean P. Milligan photo) Amy Bruns has been Caitlin Adams' mentor through a school program since Caitlin Adams was in fourth grade. The two were paired through a program that involves Skillin Elementary, Memorial Middle School, and Unum that helps South Portland students transition into adolescence. (Sean P. Milligan photo) “We target kids, (that may have) single parents from divorce or death – it could be an intact family but both parents work. They just need that one extra adult,” Aldrich said.

When Aldrich took over the position about a decade ago she inherited a flailing mentoring program. Aldrich then approached Susan Austin, community relations consultant at Unum, about starting a new program with fourth-grade students.

“This one was really easy; the kids were close, there was a need, we were asked, and they come on site so our employees don’t have to leave,” Austin said. “It was easy for us to do and something really beneficial for the kids in South Portland.”

The program allows students to interact in an environment where organization and hard work are paramount to success. The hope is that students will see these attributes pay off and will apply them to their own education and lives.

When paired with a mentee, mentors must agree to continue the partnership for the school year, but oftentimes the friendships lasts much longer than that. If a student remains in the program from year to year and the employee remains at Unum, they remain paired until the student reaches high school.

Mentoring pairs such as Amy Bruns and Caitlin Adams have been together multiple years. The duo was paired when Adams was a fourth grader at Skillin. They even spend time outside of the allotted one hour a week at Unum.

“I don’t live with my parents or anything so this program helps me,” said Adams, now a seventh grader at Memorial Middle School. “(Bruns’s) husband is supportive, as well, and I just like hanging out with someone and going places and talking outside of Unum and school.”

“I love hanging out with Caitlin,” added Bruns, a 13- year veteran at Unum. “It gets me back into the perspective of seeing things through the eyes of a child.”

Mentors and mentees who wish to spend time outside of the school-sponsored one hour a week must join Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Maine because of liability issues. The application process is abbreviated for the existing pairs.

Since 2002, January has been designated as National Mentor Month. People of the South Portland and Cape Elizabeth communities are encouraged to help children in the area who are need of a mentor.

“Every kid could use that extra person outside of the family,” Aldrich said.

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