Daniel Landry '18 spent five years in the U.S. Marines. As a squad leader and marksmanship instructor, he was used to talking to large groups of soliders at a time. So, you’d think going one-on-one with a 12-year-old would be a piece of cake, right?
Landry faced that challenge last year while volunteering with Wildcat Youth Mentors, a program that has UNH students working with at-risk middle and high schoolers to instill confidence and build self-esteem. This isn’t academic mentoring; it’s about creating trust and forming connections.
“He was a really shy kid,” Landry says of the young boy he mentored. “I thought I was messing up at first because I felt like I couldn’t really get his attention. He would barely say a word.”
In 2015, between 40 and 50 UNH students volunteered to be mentors in schools around the state.
But then they started playing basketball, and Landry came to realize the boy was someone who didn’t get a lot of attention. And that he was being bullied. They didn’t talk grades or about his home life, they just hung out, one hour a week, almost every week, throughout the academic year.
At some point before school ended, the boy mentioned college. “I could tell it wasn’t something that was talked about at home,” says Landry, a political science major who heads up UNH's Wildcat Youth Mentors. “He asked about UNH and maybe could he go there, and if he did, could he take a television.”
Landry said yes and yes. And that’s what Wildcat Youth Mentors is about, says Bruce Montville ’59, who launched the support program in 2003 through his nonprofit LifeWise Community, a 24-year-old organization that promotes volunteerism. Wildcat Youth Mentors is now a recognized UNH program.
Of youth mentoring, Montville says, “It can be tough duty. I tell potential mentors, ‘If you can take being lied to, spit in the face and who knows what else, then, yes, I would like you to become a mentor.’”
Depending on the need, Wildcat mentors can be found in New Hampshire middle schools, high schools and community outreach centers. Teachers and guidance counselors recommend students who are struggling academically, have low self-esteem or are consistently absent. School counselors meet with mentors beforehand and then match them with the students. During the program’s first year, 14 mentors were paired with students from Barrington Middle School.
“My experience being a Wildcat Youth Mentor has been very special,” says Mark Espanet '19, a 2015 volunteer who, this year, is in charge of recruiting new mentors. “My mentee and I became really close. When we first met, he was sort of a bully just because those are the circumstances that he grew up in, but by the end he showed more compassion for people, and that made me really proud.”
In 2015, between 40 and 50 UNH students volunteered to be mentors in schools around the state. Landry is now in the process of recruiting for this academic year.
“We don’t expect them to be social workers,” Montville says, “but we do encourage them to talk to their mentee about the dangers of drugs, if it comes up. But the main thing is to be a positive role model.”
Other members of the Wildcat Youth Mentors campus staff include: Kyle Koller '18, vice president; Kaitlyn Belknap '17, secretary: Kelsey Logan '19, assistant recruiter; and Chris Smith '19, head of social media.