Len Barry and Armando Williams have been hanging out together for almost five years. This mentor/mentee relationship through Chautauqua Striders is one that clicked right from the get-go.
"When I first met Armando as a fourth-grader at Love Elementary, we immediately hit it off.," Barry said. "For me to step into his life was a no-brainer."
Equally as seamless is the impact Len is having on the 13-year-old's life. Armando said he considers Len part of his family, someone with whom he can share everything.
Len Barry and Armando Williams have known each other for almost five years.
"When something is wrong, I know I can talk to Len. He's always there for me. He helps me with my homework and takes the time to listen to my problems. We stick-together, the two of us."
And sticking together is something that the Striders Mentoring Program has been advocating since its inception 19 years ago. Len and Armando are one of 95 different matches in Chautauqua County - and the need is growing.
"Right now there are over 150 youths in need of a mentor, according to middle school counselors," said Deb Kathman, executive director of Chautauqua Striders. "Studies show children connected with a mentor do better at school, with peers, and in life."
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But it's not just the mentee who benefits from the relationship. Len Barry said he's learned just as much from Armando, as Armando has learned from him.
"He's helped me become less selfish," Barry said. "He's also helped me be a better father to my own two children. The neat thing about mentoring is that both people are there for the same reason. As a parent or a coach, you don't always know what the environment will be like. As a mentor, I know what I'm getting into."
Len and Armando get together once a week for about 30 minutes a day - sometimes over lunch, sometimes at a community event - and the topics can range from setting future goals to triumphs at school. Armando said Len has helped him navigate through some choppy waters in his life.
"The past four years, I've been at three different schools," Armando said. "Len has helped me make new friends and has been dependable. I can tell him anything and he always listens. When I need him, he's always there."
"We're just part of a bigger mentoring family," Barry said. "Initially, I wanted to do this in order to stay near education. It's important to have an adult in the process. Armando's direct experiences are important to me. This relationship has changed me in so many positive ways. Before, I would rush to conclusions. But Armando has helped me to step back and assess things more."
For Armando, having Len in his life has helped shape it.
"Len has helped me communicate what I'm feeling," said Armando. "He's inspired me to do a better job at school, and to be a better person at home."
When you give to the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County, you help mentors just like Len connect with mentees just like Armando. Your gift enables Chautauqua Striders to make these vital matches throughout Chautauqua County, and to inspire our youth of today to lead a better tomorrow.