Mentoring program marks 15th year, seeks new volunteers

Fairview’s Friends Make a Difference program has impacted more than 1,000 students


With the school year in full swing, a Fairview Lakes Medical Center program marks its 15th year of pairing local students with adult mentors.

The program got its start about the same time Fairview Lakes Medical Center was built in 1998. It’s now led by Kathy Bystrom, assistant manager for Fairview Lakes Community Health Outreach.

Mentor Karen Rieck spends time with her young friend Britnie. (Photo submitted)
Mentor Karen Rieck spends time with her young friend Britnie. (Photo submitted)

“When the medical center opened in 1998, our staff wanted a way to connect with the community; conveniently, the Wyoming Elementary School was right next door,” said Bystrom.

As the staff began to see how their relationships with the students helped improve the kids’ attendance, self-esteem, behavior and academic performance, the program was named, “Friends Make A Difference,” and the scope expanded to provide personalized guidance for each student and to include adult volunteers from the community as mentors.

Today, Friends Make A Difference operates in 15 schools in the Forest Lake, Chisago Lakes and North Branch school districts, with the help of about 200 mentors comprised of Fairview staff, community members and volunteers from several local businesses and organizations. More than 1,000 students have participated since the program began.

Mentors are asked to meet with their students once or twice a month during the student’s lunch hour. The mentors’ primary responsibility is to be a positive role model, but mentors are also champions, cheerleaders, advocates and friends.

“The most effective mentors possess a desire to make a difference and a willingness to listen and provide guidance without judgment,” said Bystrom.

Making the grade

A 2013 survey validates the importance of the program:

– 77 percent of students said they feel more adults care about them because of the program

– 66 percent said they are able to better express their feelings

– 60 percent said their attitude toward school is better

– 84 percent of parents with students in the program said their children experienced increased self-esteem because of their mentoring relationship.

Additionally, the program was acknowledged by the Minnesota Hospital Association as an innovative community health improvement strategy, and it has received financial support from the Greater Twin Cities United Way in recognition of its success.

This spring, 10 students graduated from Forest Lake and Chisago Lakes high schools who had been with their mentors since elementary school or junior high, and many of those mentors attended the graduation ceremonies or open houses.  At moments like that, Bystrom said, “The positive return on investment is clear.”

Mentors wanted

This year Friends Makes A Difference hopes to recruit 45 new mentors. Mentors should relate well to young people, and be available to meet with their student for one or two lunch hours a month for at least one full year. Those interested should contact Bystrom at 651-257-8439 or [email protected]