Annual REACH picnic offers Team Robins mentors and youth chance to relax, relate Published April 20, 2007 By Amanda Creel 78th ABW/PA Robins AFB, Ga -- Members of Team Robins are always making a difference in the lives of the community that surrounds the gates of the base. One of the programs is the Raising Education Achievement for Children mentoring program, which allows members of the Robins community to mentor elementary age children from throughout the local community. Jennifer Hall, a teacher and REACH coordinator at Parkwood Elementary, said the program is invaluable to the students involved and seeing the one-on-one interaction and attention is great. "A lot of the children just need a positive role model, someone coming to check in on them just because they are interested in them," Ms. Hall said. The program targets three areas to help the students: improving academic performance, increasing school attendance and keeping children out of trouble, said Patti Conley with the Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Heart of Georgia program. Mentors commit to visiting their student for one hour each week at the school. Although this school year is coming to an end, Ms. Conley said people interested need not wait until next school year to get involved. "I will talk to them now, no reason to wait. We always have kids who want mentors," she said. "Every time I go to the schools kids stop me in the hall and ask for a mentor." To celebrate the end of another great year for the REACH program, nearly 300 mentors and students crowded Robins Friendship Park April 12. Children and their mentors could be found sliding down inflatable slides, playing catch, tossing footballs, jumping in bounce castles or hitting the volleyball and basketball courts. When they weren't burning calories, REACH members could be found munching on hotdogs, hamburgers and chips and slurping on sodas and snow cones. Other activities included face painting, where SpongeBob and Patrick were very popular, and a clown was busy assembling balloon animals. All of the kids were excited about the festivities and the opportunity to hang out with their mentors outside of their school's campus. Dakota Isbell, 8, a student at Pearl Stephens Elementary, was quite shy as he walked around watching other children running around the park. However, his face lit up as he talked about his mentor, Joe Wunderlin, a civilian with the 830th Aircraft Sustainment Group. "We do fun stuff like play on the computer and math," Dakota said. Mr. Wunderlin has been involved in the program for 10 years. "He wouldn't take anything for the time with him each week," he said. Other students agreed that having a mentor is fun and beneficial. "She's really cool and she helps me get ready for my tests," said Kenyatta Kendrick, 10 of her mentor, 2nd Lt. Regina Forstell, a member of the 580th Aircraft Sustainment Support Squadron. Kenyatta, a student at Linwood Elementary, said she enjoyed going to the computer lab and visiting two of her favorite Web sites Bratz.com and Disney.com. Along with surfing the Web, she loves playing hangman on the chalkboard and doing Mad Libs with her mentor. "I love the time we get to spend together. She's an awesome influence on me and she's always having fun, so she inspires me to have fun too," said Lieutenant Forstell. Though the picnic signals the end of another great year of mentoring for the program, for many of the students and the mentors this is just the beginning of their relationship. Lisa Corr and Anna Barkemeyer, 8, have been paired together for two years through the program and the duo spends much of its time each week "reading long books" according to Anna, a student at Lindsey Elementary. "Seeing her grow, mature and learn and seeing the improvement in just one year is amazing," Ms. Corr said, who plans to continue mentoring Anna until she completes fifth grade. While some mentors are excited about the possibility of long relationships with their students, many of the active duty members don't always have that luxury. "We are only here a short time so it's good to make an impact where we can," said 1st Lt. Nick Ferry, a member of the 565th Aircraft Sustainment Squadron, who has been mentoring Kedrck Williams, 10, for three years. "It's definitely a good program for the Air Force. It gives us the opportunity to extend the mentorship we've gotten and guide kids like Kedrck on the right path." What to know To get involved in the REACH program, contact Jywanya Dillinger at 926-5151 or Patti Conley at 322-3267.