By Stacy Jenkins, Administrator of District Communications, Livonia Public Schools
School can be hard. Classwork, fitting in with peers, trying to leave the stress from the morning at home and switching gears to be ready to learn. It can be tough on a child.
That’s where caring adults come into the picture in sharp focus.
“Nothing has more impact in the life of a child than positive relationships,” said Kristen Jacobsen-Harm, coordinator of Student Services for Livonia Public Schools. “Building strong relationships with our students is a hallmark of Livonia Public Schools.”
Jacobsen-Harm is married to Livonia Fire Department Captain David Jacobsen-Harm and the couple came up with a new mentoring program that pairs firefighters from the LFD with LPS students who are in need of that added support.
“The goal of this program is for first responders to build and support effective and trusting relationships with our students,” Jacobsen-Harm said. “Through consistent sessions and interactive activities, mentors model positive social skills, show students they care about them and challenge them to become their best selves.”
Captain Jacobsen-Harm said he and his wife have always thought about ways in which their careers could come together to benefit kids and the community.
“The mentorship program seemed like a good fit for both the kids and our firefighters who enjoy giving back to the community,” he said. “We have a public relations program that includes open houses and the annual Passport to Safety event, which is always a big hit, but nothing that is one on one.”
So far, the program has matched nine firefighters with students in Livonia Public Schools. One such volunteer mentor, Demetrius Washington, spent time with a Cooper Upper Elementary student before being called to a different volunteer opportunity in his hometown. While he was at Cooper, he met weekly with sixth-grader Darnell Woodcox. The two would play card games and hang out for about an hour each time.
“Having a friend makes you want to come to school,” Washington said. “It’s always helpful to have somebody to talk to.”
Washington said he was immediately interested in volunteering to be a mentor because he has always enjoyed helping people. He said he will miss volunteering at Cooper, but he continues to volunteer at his church and recreation center.
“I’m all about helping out,” he said. “I love motivating people to do better.”
Captain Jacobsen-Harm said firefighters are naturally service-oriented but they also gain from spending time with and serving as a mentor for kids in the community.
“It's rewarding to serve the community in a purely volunteer fashion,” he said. “It speaks to the selfless attitude of those who feel called to serve and help others. The fire service is very rewarding but it comes with an emotional price. When it comes to children, it's nice to be met with smiles and not tears.”
Jacobsen-Harm said he is grateful for the support of Livonia Fire Chief Robert Jennison and hopes to grow the program in the future.
Livonia Public Schools Superintendent Andrea Oquist notes the new mentoring program supports and strengthens the social-emotional offerings the district has in place.
“A child cannot have too many caring adults in their lives,” she said. “This mentorship program is a perfect complement to the commitment we have to ensure each of our students has trusted adults at school to support, care for and guide them. We are grateful to the Harms as well as the LFD volunteers for supporting our LPS students.”