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CIRCLE Mentoring Program participants volunteer at Ecumen Meadows

Sarah Strenge (in blue) is shown with Tony Perez (center) during Sunday's bingo at Ecumen Meadows.

WORTHINGTON -- Sarah Strenge was among several of the students from the CIRCLE Mentoring Program (CMP) who joined residents at Ecumen Meadows for Sunday afternoon Bingo as a service project coordinated by the Nobles County Integration Collaborative.

Residents played three rounds of Bingo with their younger friends and were treated to prizes of chips or candy bars.

Volunteering at the Meadows is one of the various monthly activities the collaborative organizes for CMP participants to connect with the community.

CMP provides an additional source of support for at-risk elementary students who are paired with high school mentors throughout the county.

"This month, since it's Martin Luther King day, we decided to bring them to the Meadows for them to volunteer," said Lakeyta Potter, Youth Initiatives Coordinator for the collaborative. "Volunteering is great, especially for the younger kids to realize that they can help out in their community even though it's something little."

High-schoolers are trained to work with younger, at-risk children and are matched with them during an annual summer camp.

"They learn how to build trust with the elementary kids," Potter said. "Throughout the school year, it is the mentor's responsibility to have some kind of contact at least once a month and at least a phone call every week."

For Strenge, working with kids has always been the best fit for her.

"At first I didn't know what the program was about," said Strenge, who is mentoring for the second year. "It sounded like fun, but when I found out that I get to hang out with kids and talk to them, I knew it's where I (would) fit in."

This year, Strenge was matched with second-grader Tony Perez. She explained that she and Perez participated in Operation Christmas Child last year. The pair went shopping for gifts to fill out a shoebox for a less fortunate child.

"I hang out with him about three hours a month," she said, adding that mentors are paired with student from the same town. "I go to his house or go to a movie with him. We talk a lot, especially if he has something going on at home."

Potter explained that elementary students are usually referred by their counselor or social worker for the program.

"The child just needs that trusting relationship and a caring person they can have in their lives," she said.

Daily Globe reporter Ana Anthony can be reached at 376-7321