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Even at a Distance, Mentoring Program Fosters Warm Connections

Team Tuskers Mentoring promgran kidsSomers Middle School sixth grader Allison Giron says that an hour spent with Janet Parke feels like five minutes.

Somers High School senior Derek Donnelly says that playing games and chatting with Barbara Silvestri is one of his favorite things.

Both students are part of TEAM Tuskers, a mentoring program that pairs Somers students in 3rd-12th grade with older community members; Parke and Silvestri are two of the program’s mentors. The program, in its ninth year, is designed to support the social and emotional growth of students through the development of friendships between the mentors and students.

Prior to the implementation of COVID restrictions, students and their mentors would meet in person, for an hour each week, to share fun activities like board games, art projects, or simply to chat.

Last year the program transitioned to virtual meet ups, and the same will hold true for the 2021-22 school year. Executive Director Phyllis Morrison feels there have actually been some advantages to the program going virtual. “One upside is that there are more people who can participate in the program, due to the flexibility of FaceTime, Zoom, email or phone calls,” she said. “Also, the mentors and mentees aren’t limited by specific days and times anymore. Most of them meet for shorter periods, but they connect much more frequently.”

“I tell her about my life, and she tells me what’s going on in hers,” said Allison of her relationship with Parke. “When we were able to meet in person, we would go to the playground or shoot baskets at the gym. Now we meet virtually, which is fine because I want her to be safe.”

Mentors are quick to acknowledge that they benefit from the connections as much as the mentees. “Allison has taught me a lot about digital activities, such as screen sharing or playing games on Roblox,” said Parke. “She’s actually helping to make me cooler!” Parke noted that Allison enjoys drawing and often uses screen sharing to display her latest work.

“I have been fortunate to have met two wonderful students through the program,” said Silvestri, who mentored another student prior to connecting with Derek. “My time with Derek is rewarding and special, whether we are texting one another or FaceTiming to share news,” she said. “He recently texted me when he got his learner’s permit.”

Morrison is organizing an in-person meet up at the home football came on Friday, September 24. “I thought that would be a fun way for the students and their mentors to share a little bit of face-to-face time,” she said.

Silvestri said that she hopes her relationships with her mentees will be enduring. “I think all school districts should have a program like this,” she said.

Allison couldn’t agree more. “I have recommended the program to my friends,” she said. “I tell them that it’s an hour you get to hang out and play games with your mentor. It’s just like having a wonderful new friend.”

Anyone interested in joining TEAM Tuskers, either as a mentor or mentee, can contact Morrison at