Mentors and Mentees Move Forward, Together
Moving forward often requires us to look back.
History has proven that the role of a mentor can have a profound impact on society. Historical figures—including those local to Elizabethtown College—are no different.
With visions of opening his own confection business, iconic entrepreneur Milton S. Hershey first was an apprentice for Joseph R. Royer, a Lancaster County candy maker. It might have been the guidance of Hershey’s mentor that inspired him to take action and open his first shop in 1876. Just 20 years after Hershey began selling sweet treats, the dream of a college based on Church of the Brethren principles became a reality for one of Elizabethtown College’s founders, Jacob “Jay” G. Francis.
Francis served his community as a pastor and, through this type of servant leadership, he likely gave support as a mentor to members of his congregation. Francis and Hershey started a long legacy of civic service and education—both men taking steps toward their dreams, no doubt learning and growing from mentor-mentee connections. Through those relationships, we can observe the importance of service and community.
Fast forward to the present: More than a century after these local icons made history, their legacies mirror the paths of individuals presently at Elizabethtown College and Milton S. Hershey School—a coeducational home and school for children from families of low income households—through a mentoring program that is changing the lives of students.
Moving Forward Together (MFT) began at E-town in 2005 and has become one of the College’s signature community-based learning programs. Nancy Valkenburg, director of the Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE), developed MFT in cooperation with Milton Hershey counselors. Only a 20-minute drive from the College, Milton Hershey, like E-town, is a private, educational institution. The prekindergarten through 12th-grade school provides a structured home life year-round to its students at no cost. According to school officials, the institution focuses on building character and providing children with the necessary skills to be successful in every aspect of their lives.
MFT is a four-year mentoring outreach program that recruits Milton Hershey freshmen and first-year E-town students. Through a thorough application and clearance process, 20 E-town students are selected and paired with high school mentees for all four years of their college careers. The program has become so popular that some Elizabethtown students are wait-listed and are given the option to serve as an alternate mentor, or they are encouraged to serve through a different CCCE program. Arthur Kline ’70, associate director of transition services, serves as the program liaison between Milton Hershey and E-town.
Nancy came over to my office at Milton Hershey and shared her vision with me, I was hooked immediately.
– Arthur Kline ‘70
Valkenburg’s vision was of a program that would allow Milton Hershey students to see the value of secondary education and a means of helping students from both schools learn and grow together through educational—and personal—experiences.
“First-year college students have many of the same concerns and challenges as the students studying at a residential school, such as Milton Hershey High School,” Valkenberg explained. “Our first-year students are fresh out of high school and who better to share their high school experiences?”
Milton Hershey and E-town students meet for several skill-building events during the academic year. These activities not only benefit mentees, but they also prepare college students for the professional world. Former MFT mentor Stephanie Smith ’12 said the community-based learning experience certainly helped her.
“As a high school teacher, I always look back, and I am glad for all of my experience with high school-aged students outside of a classroom,” she said. “I think it helps me better understand my students now.”
Smith fondly recalls her mentee.
“She was a spunky kid, and we both played field hockey, so that’s how they matched us up,” she explained. “They have a very strict diet at Milton Hershey, and she loved eating whatever she wanted with me!”
“As a high school teacher, I always look back, and I am glad for all of my experience with high school-aged students outside of a classroom.”Stephanie Smith ‘12
Valkenburg explained that the program is also a tool for students to learn how to build meaningful relationships between the mentor and mentee—and relationships take time to grow.
“I wanted (MFT) to be a four-year program because a long-term relationship would provide a stable and trusted relationship for both the high school and college students,” she said. “I think it’s important for (Milton Hershey) students to have that tie because they don’t have it all the time.”
Keith Jones, a counselor at Milton Hershey, agreed. He tells his students, “this is an excellent opportunity for you to have a big brother or big sister who will listen to you and will be a friend who will support you as you move through high school to your post-secondary plan. You will learn about life on a college campus.”
Katie Appleby ’15 and her mentee, 16-year-old Milton Hershey student Brittany Strausser of Philadelphia, Pa., appear to have one of those “trusted” relationships. Despite studying abroad in Mexico this year, Appleby keeps up with her mentee through social media.
If Strausser has learned one thing from her mentor, it’s not to be shy. She said Appleby is energetic, playful and helpful. The mentoring goes beyond the classroom.
“I’ve learned that Katie and I have a lot in common and, also, I’ve learned to get out of my comfort zone,” she said, adding that during her time in MFT she decided she wanted to become an accountant. “(MFT) helped me figure out how college may be and how to prepare myself (for) a better living situation.”
Appleby has learned from her mentee and the program, too. “…it’s made me much more appreciative of the opportunities I’ve had in my life,” Appleby said. “I think it’s made me much more patient and understanding—one who is always ready to offer a helping hand or simply listen to a person who wants to be heard.”
Valkenburg encourages students to be persistent and patient. “As long as you have a passion, you can dream big and still achieve your dreams.”
MFT mentors seem to have taken Valkenburg’s advice to heart as they pass along their own wisdom and guidance to their mentees, continuing a long legacy of service and education.