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Mentor Denton secures more volunteers for at-risk students

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

A new initiative between city, school and university leaders is reaching more volunteers for Denton schoolchildren who are at risk.

Mentor Denton launched a dedicated website, Facebook page and Twitter account in mid-August with the express goal of inspiring 1,000 Denton residents, including university students, to give an hour a week mentoring one student for a year.

The Denton school district has several programs that bring volunteers to campus but was ready for one that had a wide reach, according to Superintendent Jamie Wilson.

The district considers 10,000 of its students at risk of not completing high school. Mentoring programs help students, even those who aren’t at risk, to talk to people about their career interests and college plans.

By the end of the second week of the drive, Mentor Denton had already recruited about 650 volunteers.

Angie Manglaris, a graduate student at the University of North Texas, signed up for and will attend a training session on campus before getting matched with a student.

She said it didn’t matter to her what age student she would be matched with — she is ready to go where she’s most needed.

Manglaris wants to be able to help another student the way a teacher helped her in high school.

She described herself as a middle-of-the-pack kind of student who didn’t think about attending college.

“I didn’t realize until after high school what I was really capable of achieving,” Manglaris said.

She graduated from UNT with a bachelor’s degree in political science and is seeking a master’s degree in public administration. She hopes to work in the nonprofit sector.

She said she didn’t feel like she fit in during high school. She also got picked on a lot. She played trombone all four years, both in the high school band and marching band. She found support from one of her high school band directors.

Sometimes it was just being in the band hall on a bad day that helped, she said. Sometimes, the teacher said things that changed her perspective and made a difference.

“She told me that she did care,” Manglaris said. “She said that things that happen in high school today won’t shape who you are. She told me that it doesn’t go on forever.”

Looking back now, she realizes that she was at risk of falling through the cracks, although she’s not sure she was identified that way by school officials. She wants to do her part to help a student who’s at risk now, she said.

The push for 1,000 volunteers grew out of several discussions between city, university and school officials to increase community engagement, according to Denton City Council member Kevin Roden.

While the volunteers will be trained and matched through the Communities in Schools program, Roden said there have been discussions about how to build a broader volunteer base that can be tapped by other community programs.

Then there’s the trick of encouraging people to stay involved in the community once they’ve volunteered.

He’s buoyed by the response just from the online campaign, since the groups haven’t begun some of the outreach they have planned for Mentor Denton.

Still, they have ambitious goals, including eventually finding a mentor for every one of those students at risk.

“We may have to rethink what that means in order to get to 10,000 volunteers,” Roden said.

To volunteer or learn more, visit www.mentordenton.org.