“It’s the ultimate delayed gratification.” So says Denny, who served as a volunteer tutor and mentor with the high school program at the Outreach Community Center in Carol Stream. When he started investing in the life of a high school student, he knew it would take time to build a relationship. Fast forward five years; Denny and his OCC student Terry have a bond that surpasses words.
“When it’s time to make a big decision, after my father, Denny’s the guy I think about,” says Terry. “He’s like a family member but so much more. I can’t put it into words.”
Terry’s family moved from the city to the suburbs when he was in sixth grade. “I struggled academically from the first day I set foot in Wheaton/Carol Stream,” he says. “I went from getting straight A’s without even trying (in Chicago schools) to a really good school system. I definitely needed tutoring.”
Enter: Denny, who became involved when his church, All Souls Anglican in Wheaton, hosted a ministry fair. “All Souls had been involved with the ministry for 2 or 3 years at that time, and my wife thought we should check it out,” he says. “About six months later, she decided to focus on other ministry commitments and dropped out. I was stuck!” he jokes. “But I couldn’t be more grateful I got ‘stuck,’” he smiles.
Terry and Denny were matched during Terry’s sophomore year of high school. “At first we’d meet once a week and work on homework—not a lot of sharing about our lives,” says Denny. “Eventually we started meeting for lunch or dinner and we’d really talk. It evolved into a mentoring relationship.”
Terry, now a college freshman at Eastern Illinois University, realizes the value of his relationship with Denny. “Denny was someone I could really talk to about life,” he says. “I could tell him things I would never tell my family. If others my age had that same resource, they’d be in a better place.”
Denny beams when he speaks about Terry, who’s been extremely successful in college—he racked up a 3.3 GPA last semester, and is well-respected by classmates, professors, and staff. “Terry’s been through a lot of stuff growing up, particularly in high school,” he says. “A lot of kids get derailed by that. But Terry is using that life experience to make some really good decisions.”
Currently, Terry’s decisions revolve around his future career. While he’s considered majoring in political science or history, after reading a book about a woman in Africa who established hospitals, he’s decided he’d like to work in public health administration. He even contacted the author of the book, who offered him an internship.
“He wants to help people in need—he’s on the path to doing something amazing,” says Denny. “His transformation has been incredible. It’s been a blessing to see that kind of development.”
Many kids like Terry are faced with choices and life situations where extra support beyond their parents can really make a difference. OCC needs caring adults who are interested in establishing a mentoring relationship with students like Terry. “Some people are intimidated by high school kids,” says Denny, “but all it takes is some time and investment. They’ll respond.”
If you’re interested in being a mentor to a high school student, contact Kathy Christensen at 630.682.1910 or firstname.lastname@example.org