OLD TOWN — As kids, we remember the enjoyment of meeting a mentor. As adults, some say there’s no better joy than connecting with our inner child.
River Runners aims to work firsthand with children to find their future interests, thanks to a joint partnership between RSU 34 and the Old Town-Orono YMCA and grant money from the Lerner Foundation.
The program offers a wide variety of community service projects, team-building activities, and guided trips to explore Maine’s great outdoors, among other things.
“What’s better than working with a kid? I can’t tell you how many times in the four years I’ve been working with these students that I’ve seen the light bulb go on,” said Jessica Dumont, who along with Gretchen Leithiser serves as a program manager.
“Studies have shown time and time again that one of the most important things that can impact a youth’s success in the future is having a caring adult,” Leithiser said.
But the pandemic has pivoted our ways of connection, creating new challenges, Leithiser said.
“Unfortunately, this is our reality. This is how things are, so instead of sitting and saying ‘what a bummer we can’t do this, this and this’ we’re putting all our energy into the things we can do,” she said.
Leithiser said a desire to help youth succeed in life comes with sacrifice and recently mentors have been scarce.
Dumont agreed: “There are a lot of avenues our students need to go on and we need help with that.”
Dumont said the challenge is finding people who can help in any way, whether it be through donations, time to spend with the kids, hosting a team dinner, or even an online learning experience.
“Being around their peers, even though we’re social distancing and wearing masks, just to hear them giggle and to find joy in the world right now is so wonderful because so many people are having trouble finding that joy,” she said. “If you want it, come and work with us because these kids are really amazing.”
Anyone interested in getting involved in the River Runners program should contact the Old Town-Orono YMCA or either program manager.