By Monique Harrison

Daily Journal

One of the driving goals of the School Time Friends program is to change lives by helping children to excel academically and socially.

And at least some participants in the program, which is in its third semester, say that is exactly what is happening.

“I can just see a difference in his personality,” Big Brother Rickie Patterson, 33, said of his 11-year-old “sibling” Slyvester. “When I first met him, he wasn’t much of a conversationalist. Now, he wants to talk and he talks to different people. He’s more … confident. He knows I’m coming and looks forward to it. I do this because I think it gives him hope that he can achieve. It’s a good feeling.”

Penny Collins, who is a social worker at the North Mississippi Medical Center Rehabilitation Institute, has seen similar changes in her “little sister,” who is a third-grader at Plantersville School.

“At first, she was kind of checking me out and I guess I was checking her out,” said Collins, a 34-year-old with a 2 1/2-year-old of her own and another on the way. “At that age, I think children are naturally suspicious of adults. We had to overcome that.

“When I started doing this, I asked myself how much difference I could really make in someone’s life in just 30 minutes a week. But now, I’m seeing that it can be remarkable. We’ve come a long way.”

Collins said one of the highlights of her relationship with her little sister came when she saw her in a store one day.

“She was waving and calling my name,” Collins said. “Then, she came up and gave me a big hug. It was amazing because this child isn’t much for touching you. She’s just not like that. It meant a lot.”

Tupelo’s Liz Edwards, who works in sales at Alliant Food Services, said she’s learned as much as the little brother with whom she was paired.

“This is a great way to get back into the school system,” said the 28-year-old, who does not have children. “It gives you access to people in the schools so you know what’s going on. And children have a great way of reteaching you to stop and smell the roses.”

She said while she’s learning about the school system, she’s also making a difference.

“It doesn’t seem like much to us, but these kids don’t always have someone who will let them be the sole focus of their attention for 30 minutes. No one asks them how they are doing or what they did at school. That’s not always because the parent is a bad parent. Single parents, especially if they have several children, get caught up in just trying to get supper cooked – to get everything done.”

For 41-year-old Glenn McCullough Jr., participation in the program has brought a deeper understanding of today’s youth.

“Sometimes, people just sit back and watch all that is going wrong,” said the Tupelo resident, who has been paired with a 12-year-old boy. “It’s helped me to understand what they face. I see how strong peer pressure is, even for children of elementary age. A lot of them don’t have an adult mentor they can talk to – confide in. That makes it really hard. I think we’ve become friends.”

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