By Michelle Jones and Mariah Himes
With a father in prison for seven years, Kenny was having trouble at home. He lacked a strong male role model and struggled with anger and having positive friendships. When he was matched with mentor Keith Bress through Tiger Mentoring Program at Spencer Middle School, much of that was about to change.
Keith decided to start mentoring in 2010. His first mentee, a shy young man struggling to find work and overcome anger, was able to develop a more positive outlook on life through their mentoring relationship. The young man became more confident and, with Keith’s help, found a part-time job. Keith was a perfect mentor for Kenny because he was already familiar with the difficulties Kenny was facing.
Kenny enjoys talking to Keith and feels comfortable sharing his life and struggles with the mentor: “He was able to relate to the everyday things I would talk to him about.” Kenny says he can be honest with Keith and feels that the mentor has helped and supported him. “He was the one who helped me get my first job. He advised me on interviews, etc. Since I have anger issues, he taught me how to relax and deal with competition…he also helped me to develop my weaknesses.”
When the two aren’t talking and working on professional skills, they like to play guitar hero and sports. Keith has been impressed not only by Kenny’s growth and maturity, but also by his own ability to keep up with his mentee: “Didn’t think at over 60 I’d be playing sports. It’s good exercise.” While Keith supports and encourages Kenny, the mentee also supports his mentor as the older man tries new activities that Kenny enjoys. Keith sums up his commitment to Keith and mentoring as “bend with the flow. What your youth likes, now you like. You will get more out of than you can imagine.”
The two have become close friends as a result of mentoring, and have also bonded with other youths and mentors in their program. In 2014, when Keith won one of the Excellence in Mentoring Awards, he and Kenny attended a ceremony at the Capitol. There, they were joined by fellow mentees and mentors. “We met the Governor and Lt. Governor in Des Moines. We went with other mentors in my daybreak Kiwanis group and their mentees and with other friends,” says Keith.
Though their match will formally close soon, the two plan on remaining in touch as friends and have developed friendships through their program that will last a lifetime.