Jordan* is proud of the relationships she is building with younger kids at Cunningham Children’s Home, especially the mentoring she’s done with 10-year-old Gavin*.
"I like feeling I’m helping my peers make positive choices," Jordan said. "And I’m glad Gavin feels like he can talk to me. It feels like I am making a difference in his life."
Jordan and Gavin are a part of the Residential Treatment Program at Cunningham and attend the Gerber Education program in the Noel Education Center where they participate in the "Peacemakers" program. Sixteen-year-old Jordan is a mentor and Gavin is a younger student she meets with regularly.
An inner-school mentoring program, Peacemakers connects older students with younger students. The program was started in 2010 by Melissa, a social worker at Gerber, who has seen it have a real impact on the students over the years.
"When you trust someone and challenge them to excel, it is amazing how some rise to the occasion and take flight," Melissa said.
The goal of Peacemakers is two-fold. For the younger student, it offers peer support and attention with school work as well as a personal example of self-discipline and good behavior. Their Peacemaker partner is someone they can look up to.
For the Peacemaker, it is an opportunity to gain self-confidence, leadership skills and to grow to understand personal responsibly, integrity, compassion and respect. The act of helping a younger student has a major impact on their own self-esteem.
Melissa said she looks for students with leadership qualities and positive traits they can share but also tries to see how being a Peacemaker can help them therapeutically. In the younger students, Melissa looks for a willingness to grow and learn both academically and personally.
At Gerber, being a Peacemaker is a significant honor and the students wear their Peacemakers t-shirts with great pride. And while it is voluntary program, it also has to be earned. Participants must have good relational abilities, strong communication skills and good academic discipline and can serve as a role model and inspiration to younger students. They also have to complete an application and be recommended by a teacher.
In addition to the classes Jordan takes at Gerber, she also attends Urbana High School part-time but still finds time for Gavin. Every Wednesday during lunch, and on some Fridays, she meets with him and talks, listens and shares a little of her own experiences and wisdom. Gavin appreciates the time Jordan spends with him and all that she shares.
"Jordan reminds me of my older sister," Gavin said. "She is someone I can look up to. She is happy, nice and talks to me. Jordan helps me have peace."
*names have been changed to protect the privacy of our youth