When United Way’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) received a request from Pleasant Glade Elementary School in Lacey last year for a male mentor, they called Gil Austin.
Austin, who is also a Reading Buddy at Hansen Elementary School in west Olympia, eagerly agreed to be a “lunch mentor” for a fifth-grade boy. He met with the boy twice a week for lunch at the school. He found it so rewarding and enjoyable, he volunteered again this year.
Austin says young people often need a caring adult who will spend time with them. “The boy I mentored last year was very active, so I learned to wear jeans and tennis shoes to our lunch dates. Much of our time was spent outside where he could expend pent-up energy.”
This year, he and his young scholar, another fifth-grader, spend lunchtimes talking or playing board games. Austin believes that mentoring young people is about engaging with them and offering alternatives that they might not otherwise be aware of, whether it’s solving a problem or pursuing new interests.
Before his retirement in 2007, Austin worked for the Court Administrator’s Office, and prior to that, Child Protective Services. His work at CPS made him aware of the importance of mentoring in the lives of young people. For him, mentoring is a way of helping and staying engaged with the community.
“Mentoring punctuates my life in an enjoyable and fruitful way. The kids are completely open and enthusiastic about everything.”
For anyone thinking about mentoring, he recommends accompanying a mentor for a day to see how fun and rewarding it can be.