Monday Spotlight: Friendly Giants: Someone to look up to

Kaelyn Cary

WOODSTOCK – A Central High School senior has brought high school and elementary students together by creating a mentoring program to give kids at W.W. Robinson Elementary School a little extra attention and to help them to build self-esteem.

Kaelyn Cary, 18, of Woodstock, created “Friendly Giants,” a mentoring program similar to Big Brothers, Big Sisters. In her program that began in January, 23 high school students are paired with W.W. Robinson elementary students.

Cary had been mentoring a student at the school since October and decided to bring others into the mix to work with more students.

She said the high school students filled out a questionnaire before beginning their mentorship. Megan Knitter, guidance counselor at W.W. Robinson, used the questionnaires to match the high school students – the giants – with one of the younger students, the friends, based on personality traits and common interests.

The high school students visit the elementary school on Tuesdays or Thursdays during lunch. When mentoring, the students play games, read, draw or just talk about what is going on in their lives. Once a month they all get together and play a group game to build more social skills while working together as a team. The goal of the program is to focus on the individual student and build self-esteem at a young age.

Cary added that the elementary school students involved in the program are kids who are “socially lacking” or need more consistency in their lives.

“We’re just that person to be there for them, be their friend,” she added.

She said since the program began, the mentors have noticed students who were initially shy have “blossomed” and will jump up and give their mentors a hug when they see them and look forward to their visits.

The experience has not only impacted the younger kids, but also the high school students, Cary added. The high school students look forward to these weekly visits and have gained a lot of experience working with kids, she added.

“It’s amazing seeing people grow, whether it’s the friends or the giants,” she said.

Knitter said the elementary school students are in third to fifth grade because they are more independent at that age and that allows the high school students to better relate to them.

The younger kids in the program are “those who need someone to look up to, a role model, a good influence,” she said, adding that some of the students involved in the program have difficult home situations, such as parents in jail, parents going through a divorce and homes that have been damaged in fires.

She added that parents signed a permission slip to allow their children to be a part of the program and they were excited to hear about the start of this program at the school.

Knitter added that the participants have been more outgoing and she has seen more smiles from them throughout the day. They often ask her when their “giants” will be visiting them again.

She said the high school kids have also informed her of students who are being bullied because the younger kids might not feel comfortable talking with an adult about their problems, but have built trust with their “friendly giant” and will be open about their problems.

She said that Cary has been very organized and passionate about the program since its formation and is looking for juniors to become a part of the program and replace her when she graduates this year.

Bracelets were also created for both the “giants” and the “friends” to showcase their program, Knitter added. The bracelets say “Friendly Giants, someone to look up to.”

“I’m so proud of Kaelyn for all the time, effort, energy she’s putting into this. She lights up talking about the program,” Knitter said.

After graduating, Cary would like to pursue a degree in kinesiology and physical education, as well as a minor or certification in special education.

“My ultimate goal would be to have my own gym where I can work with special needs kids,” she said.

She said she has babysat for awhile and has worked at a special needs camp and fell in love with kids with special needs and found it fun to relate to them and build special relationships with them.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com