By Janet Hall, Communications Director*
Elder Mentors have been improving children’s success in Head Start classrooms and other community settings across Alaska for more than 30 years. By providing one-on-one help with school work, modeling social and cultural values, and offering emotional support to children, Elder Mentors offer the intergenerational relationships so important to healthy child development.
In June, staff facilitated an Elder Mentor volunteer training and recognition event in Bethel. This event was the first of its kind, with 14 Elders from across the region attending. The event made important gains in strengthening supports and peer connections for these volunteers.
Marie Napoka, an Elder Mentor from Tuluksak attended the training and was recently interviewed by KYUK reporter, Anna Rose Macarthur. Here’s what Marie had to say:
When asked, “What do you teach them?,” Marie said, “We talk to the children about respect, how to behave, we praise them for learning and the things they learn from their teachers… we talk to them, we sing to them, I let them do a little bit of Yupik dance. If they are in kindergarten, or Head Start, I let them do numbers and Yupik dance. And, I tell them stories. They always want us to tell them a story and we do that. They listen….they really listen. I question them after I tell them a short story.”
Tuluksak has the most Elder mentors of any YK school with 14 regularly volunteering. How has the community been so successful at recruiting Elders? According to
Marie, “because the Elders care especially about rural life. Because we live in a village the important thing for our children to learn is to respect their parents, their Elders, their grandmas and people. We teach them about love. Every Elder can talk so kids can behave and have respect.” Marie said she has seen a difference in the students since the Elders have been working with them. “This year it seems like there are hardly any teens that have been misbehaving, fighting or ending up in the hallways at school because the Elders are there. In the classrooms, they are respected.”
Currently, there are 40 Elder Mentors serving in five YK Delta communities including Pilot Station, Russian Mission, Hooper Bay, Lower Kalskag and Tuluksak.
More Elder Mentors are needed throughout Alaska. Lower income Seniors and Elders age 55 or older, are eligible to apply. Mentors receive a small stipend. It’s tax exempt and doesn’t affect other financial assistance.
For more information about the program, please visit www.ruralcap.com or call the Program Director, Jan Abbott at 907-865-7272 or toll free at 800-478-6343. Share your valuable knowledge with a new generation while helping children learn.
*Various excerpts of the narrative are from the story, “Elder Mentors Strengthen Communities Across the YK Delta” by Anna Rose Macarthur of KYUK that aired on July 1, 2016.