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Woodford County Partner Agency Spotlight: Mentors & Meals

As we continue our journey around Woodford County, let’s get to know more about Mentors & Meals!

One in three young people are without a mentor or someone they can turn to for advice or guidance as they grow up. Students who meet with their mentors regularly are 52% less likely to skip a day of school and 37% less likely to skip a class. Mentors and Meals (M&Ms) provides middle school students free homework help, hot meals, and structured group activities that are designed to enhance academic achievement.

M&Ms started in March 2011 with a pilot program of 40 6th graders. After nine weeks, 37 of the 40 students saw an improvement in their grades compared to the previous quarter. Since its inception, M&Ms has served 776 middle school students. There have been a total of 1,255 mentors/volunteers who have dedicated a cumulative total of 46,010 volunteer hours. M&Ms’ goal is to enhance academic achievement in middle school students through mentoring. They aim to positively impact short-term outcomes like grades but also long-term outcomes like being present and invested in school and understanding the importance of education.

During the first year of M&Ms, Lisa managed to run a $100,000 organization on a $1,500 budget. The next year, she came to UWBG with data from the previous year and M&Ms received their first UWBG grant. “United Way gave us our first 3-year regional grant in 2012 and that was a game-changer. I don’t know if I could have continued without that influx of money. It was for three years, so that meant I could plan and that we weren’t just going to die after the first year. It really helped sustain us,” said Lisa Johnson, Founder and Executive Director.

M&Ms continued to serve through Covid. They quickly shifted to virtual mentoring and delivered meals. They have now shifted back to socially distanced in-person meetings. Each student is at a different table with one mentor at each table and they take their meals to-go. They had to cancel their annual Team Trivia Night due to the virus, but plan to host another in March 2021 with options for virtual or socially distanced in-person attendance.

Lisa tells the story of Sandy, a mentee from the first year of the program. When she first started attending, she didn’t like school. However, she came to the mentoring programs and meals for all three years, 6th grade through 8th grade. Mentoring really made a difference in her life and she came back to serve as a high school mentor. She is now a college student at Midway University and is doing a work-study program and getting paid to help other students at Mentors & Meals.

“The important thing with Mentors & Meals is that we met an unmet need in our community. Before us, there were no academically-focused mentoring programs for middle schoolers in Woodford County. I saw that the middle school age group was underserved - that was where the need was, so we developed a program to meet that need. It’s all about meeting the unmet needs.” -Lisa Johnson, Founder and Executive Director of Mentors & Meals.

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