Charlie had an infectious smile and outgoing personality, but in the classroom he could be a distraction.
“He was always in trouble for being the loud kid that's cracking a joke to get attention,” said Bernie Sharkey, a member of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, who volunteered to be Charlie’s mentor at nearby Reeves-Rogers Elementary.
“The teacher saw him as a kid that's got a great potential to lead kids in the right direction,” Sharkey said.
“So with Charlie, my mantra with him was that we need to take your power and use it for good.”
Charlie, whose name has been changed in this story to protect his privacy, went from class clown to a dedicated and hard-working student.
“He ended up joining a junior chef program he expressed interest in,” Sharkey said. “It made him into a good example for other kids who were looking up to him.”
Mentoring as ministry
As they prepare to leave Middle Tennessee, Sharkey and his wife Rene leave with the comfort that several other children at Reeves-Rogers are better off for having met them.
Who knows? Maybe they’ve set those children on the road to being disciples of Jesus Christ.
The Sharkey’s — Bernie is a retired chemical engineer and Rene was a purchasing director for a developer of retirement communities — are moving out of the area, but they’ll be looking for another mentoring opportunity after they settle in.
“I look at our kids and their upbringing and realize they didn’t have these kind of challenges,” Bernie said. “When they went to school, they had clothes on their back and food for lunch and somebody to make sure they went to school and somebody checking their homework.”
“So being able to give these kids just that one hour a week could make a big difference,” he said.
It was St. Mark’s emphasis on community involvement that appealed to the couple when they moved to Murfreesboro from Indianapolis, they said. When they were recruited to work with students at Reeves-Rogers, an important distinction was made: they were to be mentors, not tutors.
“That was kind of key,” Rene said. “What we learned very quickly over the years with the students was they didn’t have a lot of people … listening to them or asking them about their day.
“So, on day one, we'd say, ‘Let's sit down, tell me a little bit about yourself and what's going on.’”
Most of the children responded to the interest, and would eventually get around to telling what was really bothering them.
One of Rene’s cases was a “shy and quiet” girl.
“She was one of those types that I think is easily influenced,” Rene said.
“Someone had written on the back of the seats in the bus, and no one would fess up to it. If no one confessed, all the children on the bus would be punished.”
The girl was considering confessing to the vandalism, even though she hadn’t done it. She thought more people would like her if she got them off the hook.
“We talked through that a couple of weeks,” Rene said. “I told her, ‘You don't necessarily have to point out the person that did it, but you certainly don't need to go and be dishonest.’”
The child spoke to the classmate that had written on the seats, and convinced her to turn herself in.
“The whole bus didn't get in trouble,” Rene said.
“So just to be able to sit down at a table and have time to listen to them and give them some advice was huge.”
The couple recommends mentoring programs be considered by other United Methodist Churches.
“I don't know how many Methodist churches have a similar program like that, but I would highly recommend it,” Rene said. “It’s very rewarding for both the mentor and the mentee side.”
Jim Patterson is a Nashville, Tennessee freelance writer. Contact him by email.