Eye to Eye Mentors Connect With Kids in North Philadelphia

Mentors can have a huge impact on kids with learning and thinking differences. Holly Mainiero, a senior at Temple University, knows that firsthand.

Once a week, Mainiero closes the books on her busy schedule. She leaves the classroom at Temple and travels to nearby elementary schools in Northern Philadelphia to serve as a mentor to students with learning and thinking differences.

She and about 30 other Temple students are part of Temple’s Eye to Eye chapter, the largest in the country. Eye to Eye, a founding partner of Understood, is a national nonprofit organization that pairs college students who have a or with younger students who have similar challenges.

On Wednesdays, the Eye to Eye mentors are at Grover Cleveland Elementary. On Thursdays, they’re at Clymer Elementary. The mentors bond with the students over art projects.

One week they’re creating and decorating plaster hands. The next week they’re designing superhero costumes. Another week they create music albums. Each project is fun on the surface but also has an underlying goal of helping the mentees learn more about themselves as different thinkers.

Fifth graders Dakari Rone and Mikailah Capehart, students at Grover Cleveland, say the Eye to Eye experience has made a big difference in their lives. Mikailah especially liked the “Mood Music” project.

With this project, the kids made playlists of the music they like and labeled them by how the songs made them feel. Then they drew pictures on poster boards of the moods the songs evoked.

“We got to listen to the music we wanted to listen to,” says Mikailah. “And we talked about whether we were happy or sad and some ways to get our courage up.”

Mainiero says the music project helps the kids talk more easily about the challenges they encounter in and out of the classroom because of their learning and thinking differences.

Mikailah and several Eye to Eye mentors are featured in this video about the Temple chapter:

Eye to Eye is only in its second year at Temple. But its growth has been strong, says Micah Goldfus, national program director for Eye to Eye and its 57 chapters nationwide.

Goldfus worked through Temple University’s Disability Resource Office to spread the word that he needed volunteers to be mentors. The response was so positive that he ended up with a waiting list of students eager to serve.

Temple’s disability office is a “wonderful resource,” Goldfus says. “The office thinks big, it thinks about building community.”

This is Mainiero’s second year as a mentor. She’s also one of four student leaders. The leaders work with the schools to set up activities, get art supplies and snacks and coordinate the other mentors.

Mainiero brings a unique perspective to the program. In high school, she was diagnosed with ADHD and a disability. And she has gotten support at Temple, where she’s majoring in tourism and hospitality with a concentration in event leadership.

If you ask her why she wants to mentor kids with learning and thinking differences, her answer is simple: “It’s 100 percent because I know exactly how hard it is.”

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About the author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.