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Mentors Build Friendships and Expand Horizons

Retired teachers typically don’t spend much time on go-karts.

Unless, that is, those teachers are mentors.

That’s one of Eileen Bergerson’s favorite parts of her involvement with LSS Mentoring Services. The 68-year-old mentor’s bimonthly outings with 11-year-old Akina Armentrout open her eyes to new experiences, whether that be go-kart excursions to Thunder Road in western Sioux Falls, concerts at the Levitt Shell downtown or visits to the Air Madness trampoline park in Harrisburg.

The two were matched initially through LSS In-School Mentoring, where they’d share meals, games and conversation. When schools stopped admitting volunteers early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, the pair shifted to LSS Community Mentoring to keep in touch. Now, they meet in and out of school through both programs.

“It’s just fun,” Bergerson said during a pre-bike ride picnic with Armentrout at Family Park in late July. “I go places I wouldn’t go without Akina. I would’ve never gone to Thunder Road, you know? I don’t have any grandkids.”

“She would probably be like, just chilling on a bench just watching everyone have fun,” Armentrout said with a giggle.

“I wouldn’t even go, Akina!” Bergerson said.

The pair’s playful friendship is the true payoff. Their easy interactions and genuine appreciation for one another are marks of familiarity and comfort built over four years together that began in Armentrout’s second grade lunchroom.

The LSS screening and onboarding process was a breeze for Bergerson, who signed up to stay involved with kids after her retirement from the West Central School District. With all the support from LSS, which includes a steady stream of information on free and low-cost community activities and a card for buy-one, get-one deals at supportive businesses, she has never had trouble putting together an itinerary for a visit.

“You can choose to do things that are cheap and free, like hanging out in the park,” Bergerson said. “There’s a lot that you can do without spending money. You don’t need money. You just need the time: four hours a month.”

Armentrout appreciates all the time outdoors and the new experiences because her grandmother and mother stay so busy with her two brothers, work schedules and a range of other commitments.

“I like getting to be out and having the fresh air that I need,” she said. “A lot of times, I don’t really get to go out as much. … I’m grateful for having her as a mentor.”

Those hours add up to relationships, and life lessons learned in relationships are the ones most likely to stick. Thanks to her mentor, Armentrout will tackle sixth grade at George McGovern Middle School with an extra measure of confidence and curiosity — two traits that come in especially handy in a new school.

“I love hanging out with her,” Armentrout said. “She encourages me to do more things and do what I love and to always be myself no matter what. … You don’t have to change who you are for someone else.”

As her friend Bergerson sees it, Armentrout has a lot to offer. The youngster with dreams of being a ballet teacher picked up some moves at a single session in Irish dancing a year ago at a free family concert she’d attended with Bergerson. She remembers them all, and she’s happy to prove it for anyone who’ll watch.

She invents and fine-tunes her own dance moves, too, sometimes between designing her own outfits. She wouldn’t mind growing up to be a chef in a fine dining restaurant, a singer or an artist, but “I might just start out has a dress designer because I do have a lot of creative ideas,” she said.

Career choices come later, of course. For now, time spent practicing her dog paddle at the pool with a mentor who knows she prefers her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without the crust is time well spent.

You May Be Mentor Material

LSS partners with more than 70 Sioux Falls area schools to match volunteer mentors with students. Volunteers are screened before being matched with a student and offered support along the way to ensure the experience is a success.

Most mentors spend an hour a week in schools, but LSS Mentoring Services offers a variety of programs that allow for connections in school, out of school or a combination of both.

For high school and community mentoring, LSS leads group activities to help break the ice and keep volunteers connected to others in the program. LSS also keeps mentors in these programs informed about the wide variety of community activities and amenities, so there’s never a shortage of options for outings with students.

More than 200 Sioux Falls youth are waiting for a mentor. Are you willing to help? Follow this link to learn more about LSS Mentoring Services. Follow this link to apply today!