For most of his life, Willem VanderWende has spent one hour each week with Ann Knick. Now a junior at Bozeman High School, VanderWende’s first memory is of the two playing board games together. Knick first remembers VanderWende as a quiet kid that she followed around on the playground while he checked out the four square court and soccer field.
“He seemed shy,” Knick said. “But who wouldn’t be?” VanderWende and Knick met through Thrive’s CAP mentor program when VanderWende was in kindergarten. Since then, they have stuck together through the shy early years, the sometimes-awkward middle school years and now as VanderWende is starting to look for colleges. For them, staying together in the program over the years has never been a question.
“Why would we quit?” VanderWende asked. “It’s just a relationship that’s hard to pass up.”
“It’s part of our lives,” Knick added.
This year, CAP celebrates its 25th year in Bozeman. During that time, more than 9,000 children have spent over 150,000 hours in the program, which matches adult volunteers with students in grades K-12.
Thrive, a Bozeman nonprofit that focuses on healthy child growth and development, estimates that one in 10 students in the Bozeman Public Schools have had a CAP mentor. In 2012, CAP expanded to Big Sky.
There are currently between 500 and 600 students in the Bozeman and Big Sky programs, said Lauren Scull, CAP coordinator at Bozeman High School.
Kids of all ages are paired with adult mentors through the program. They spend one hour each week together, working on homework, playing games or just talking.
“Over time, you just keep spending time together and it doesn’t matter what we do. It’s more about the relationship,” Knick said.
“I see her as a friend,” VanderWende said.
The retired teacher and once-shy boy who likes soccer and art have become friends since first meeting at Morning Star Elementary School more than a decade ago. Like the old friends that they are, the two finish each other’s sentences and look to one another when asked to talk about their experiences together in CAP.
“I got to see him grow from this little guy to this really, tall handsome guy,” said Knick.
VanderWende is her “first and only” CAP mentee, Knick said.
She first got involved with CAP because she had a little extra time on her hands.
“I just thought it sounded like a really neat way to spend time,” she said.
At first, their meetings were a little awkward, VanderWende remembers. But that didn’t last long. He soon started getting excited when it was time for their weekly visit.
“It became something I really cherished,” VanderWende said.
For Knick, when the two started meeting, “I was the teacher-type person,” she said.
At first, they would mostly talk about school. But it didn’t take long for VanderWende to start opening up and talking more.first or second grade, “he was OK without me,” Knick said.
VanderWende agreed. He remembers being shy around other kids when he was younger, but with Knick’s help, as he got older, he talked to people with more confidence.
Now their conversations are about colleges that VanderWende is considering. He’s looking for one with a soccer program. He’s also thinking about studying graphic design.
Article used from Bozeman Daily Chronicle