Chippewa Falls (WQOW)- The impact an adult can have on the life of a child is a powerful thing. There may be no one who knows that better than Carol Gienapp.
"The Chippewa Area Mentor Program really started with an idea from a local church," explains Carol Gienapp. That idea, pioneered by Pastor Skatrud and members of our Saviors Lutheran Church, led to a meeting with a Chippewa Falls principal who was concerned about a growing group of students. "All these good kids that we starting to make some decisions that were leading them in a scary direction. He knew they were great kids, they had the potential, but he felt they needed a friend," Carol continues.
And so in 1989 six kids were matched with six adults and the Chippewa Area Mentor Program got off the ground.
"When I think back to the humble start to the mentor program, with just an idea at a time when no one talked about mentoring kids, and see what it has come to it's just amazing. It's just wonderful and again it's the community that did it. I was just lucky to be there," remembers Carol.
Carol Gienapp, who still mentors today, was one of the program's first volunteers. As more mentors and students were added Carol eventually became the program's coordinator.
"I think she would downplay it but to start a mentoring program, that's a big deal! It's not as easy as you would think," says Kayla Midthun, the program's current director and the woman who nominated Carol for a Jefferson Award. "There are a lot of things that have to come together, a lot of people that have to come together and she was instrumental in that."
Under Carol's guidance the Chippewa Area Mentor Program not only grew, it proved to be a successful school-based mentoring model. Soon districts across the county began asking for advice. "Early on we thought maybe we could take this show on the road and this could be kind of interesting but then realized if I'm out on the road then I'm not here in the community helping our kids here," remembers Carol. "So we shared our information, our materials, whatever we had learned."
Mary Fehr was matched with her mentor in 2nd grade and the pair stuck together through her senior year. "I would probably still be a really quiet girl," guesses Mary. "Well I'm still quiet. But I participate more in class and I get better grades."
Thanks in part to a scholarship from the mentor program, this fall, Mary is headed to college where she will study nursing, something she says her mentor helped encourage her to pursue. "It just changes a child's life," adds Mary. "I can't wait until I'm through college so I can start mentoring myself."
"If you can connect with something and somebody who is doing something that connects with your heart you can't stop and your volunteering will be just such a gift to you," says Carol. "It's a cliché that you get more than you give, and that is so very true. Clichés are cliches for a reason."