Below is a question/answer interview with veteran volunteers Dennis and Cindy Backhaus. The couple began visiting Vincent High School with Northbrook Church over seven years ago. As mentors and a cheering section for the Vincent High School basketball team, they have formed bonds with students and developed a deep desire to see Vincent students succeed.
Q: What connections have you made with students?
A: Cindy: I've made a lot of connections with athletes presently attending Vincent. I've also stayed in contact with two graduates on a regular basis for a few years now. Without these links to mentors, the chance to build the relationships these kids need to be successful diminishes. We cannot assume students will form connections on their own, so the tutors and mentors take the initiative in reaching out to students to help them to believe in themselves as learners.
A: Dennis: One of my students has experienced impressive growth heading into his sophomore year of college. We continue to enjoy lunch together during college breaks, and I am still involved in helping him determine his life-path. Another of our graduates continues to work with me on his career path.
Q: What type of growth and change have you seen in students, both socially and academically?
A: Cindy: Many of our students live in tumultuous environments that create challenges for them to get to school, have an area in their home that is conducive to learning, and engage in safe activities after school. As a mentor, I need to demonstrate an awareness of and sensitivity to the unique social, cultural and economic circumstances of students and their backgrounds. Again, it's about building a relationship with the kids. When mentors are a source of direction, stability, and calm in the midst of their chaos, these students see a brighter future, and it gives them hope in hopeless situations. We've seen social and academic changes in most of our kids.
A: Dennis: Teens listen and grow as they find their unique paths. Sometimes a word of encouragement is all a student needs to move in the right direction. Other times a more extended relationship is required to provide a clarity of purpose for some young people. Most of our students show growth academically and socially.
Q: Why do you and Cindy continue to come back?
A: Cindy: I am returning to Vincent for a seventh year because I'm afraid of the guy on the street corner. Some of our students are from the roughest neighborhoods, and they have the toughest skin and are often best equipped to deal with hardship, setbacks, and disappointment. Many deal better with these life realities than their suburban counterparts. The resilience that they possess is something that can inspire all of us. Sadly, they often don’t know early enough how valuable their own difficulties are in the real experience that catapults people from poverty to self-sufficiency to prosperity.
As mentors we’re competing with the gangs, and with the drug dealers on the corner, and when students fall through the cracks, when young people don’t have that positive mentor, in a school setting, or in a church or community, there’s always a guy on the street corner that can say, "Come over my way. I can make it better for you".
A: Dennis: I return each year to encourage students, teachers, and staff to be the best they can be.