One day, Jim Luhring plans to make a scrapbook, one that will show the special relationship he has had being a mentor for Greenbrier Elementary School pupil Elton Harrison.
All his mementos are now stored in a plastic zip-lock bag - thank-you cards, photos of them together, Christmas cards, valentines.
One card from Elton reads: "I like playing with you on Fridays. You are one of my best friends."
Many of the photos are of Luhring and a small boy. Six years later, though, Elton is nearly the same height. As Elton has grown, so has the friendship between them.
"The big compliment was that he asked me to be his mentor in middle school, too," Luhring said.
Greenbrier Elementary fifth-grader Elton Harrison often plays games with his mentor, Jim Luhring, who stops by the school every Friday to spend an hour with Elton.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Greenbrier Elementary began its mentoring program in 1996. The program was established to help pupils who might need extra support and encouragement from an adult to achieve success in and out of the classroom, said Amy Johnson, a school counselor and coordinator of the program.
"Children where there is a lack of parental involvement, a role model in their lives," Johnson said. "A lot of them are boys needing a male figure where there's not a father at home."
Volunteers are asked to commit for at least one year and meet once a week with their assigned pupil. There are 13 mentors now involved and more are always needed, Johnson said. Luhring is one of three mentors who have been participating since the program's beginning. The other two are Loretta Garland and Columbia County Sheriff's Office Lt. Clay Smith.
"The three who have been here for six years have no relation to this school at all, they don't have children who go here, they are just doing it as a service to the community," Johnson said.
It's a date Luhring has kept every Friday for six consecutive school years.
"I think it's the stability of having someone consistent in their lives, someone who cares about what they are doing and how they are doing, someone to represent them at school," Johnson said. "The kids are looking for positive reinforcement, someone to benchmark to."
Every Friday, Luhring meets with Elton about 1 p.m., but it is not a study session or a tutoring program. The goal is to have the pupil and the mentor spend quality time with one another, whether it's playing games or shooting hoops.
"I ask him how school is going, ask him what he wants to do. He usually says he wants to shoot baskets," said Luhring, a lead electrical engineer for Bechtel at the Savannah River Site.
Jim said he talks to Elton about his work and about his family and what his two sons are doing.
"My family is a stable family," Luhring said. "Both sons grew up in that environment and are headed in the right direction. If I can help someone else do that then it's worth my time."
Also, there's a lot of friendly smack talk between Luhring and Elton.
"We always play games, shoot basketball," said Elton, who plans to one day play professional basketball. "I always get the best of him at basketball. I always win."
Luhring is willing to concede.
"I've started having to practice to keep up with him," he said.
Johnson said she feels the program has been successful.
"The other kids want to why they don't have a mentor," she said. "It's a very special relationship. We want them to feel like, 'This is my friend. He's here for me."'
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