BRISTOL, Tenn. – What once began as a simple reading program nearly three years ago is beginning to blossom into one of King College’s fastest-growing philanthropic efforts among its student-athletes. This spring marks the second year members of multiple Tornado athletic teams will participate in the Storm Chaser Mentor Program, a mentoring program designed to service several Bristol, Tenn., elementary schools.
Designed to be form of mentoring program for local elementary school students, Head Softball Coach Jenn Testa is primed to help cultivate the Storm Chaser Mentor Program into a widespread community service project for Tornado Athletics. Participating King students are guided to specific elementary schools in Bristol, Tenn., and introduced to a child in need of support and assist them with their unique needs.
“Whether it is studying with them, reading to them or just being a buddy to the child, our [King] students main goal is to be there for whatever their needs are at that time,” said Testa. “I encourage them to have an open mind and an open heart to what that child’s needs are at that particular moment so that we can be there to provide for them.”
The program, though in its infancy, has already gained the support from 14 of King’s 24 varsity athletic teams with aspirations of increasing that number in the coming years. Teams involved include softball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s track and field, women’s volleyball, cheerleading, men’s and women’s wrestling, and baseball.
Each sport names one Team Leader to help coordinate the participants’ schedules from their respective team to match them with schools and students that have children in need. Senior Morgan Shelton (Chattanooga, Tenn.) is the team spokesperson for Lady Tornado Soccer and in her second year with the program.
“Last year, we [King student-athletes] and the kids weren’t sure what to expect,” said Shelton. “But over time the more we saw one another the more we warmed up to each other.”
Though time is limited between each set of students Shelton, her teammates, and her classmates realize that it is not the amount of time that is given to a child that counts but instead all that matters is that time is taken.
“The teacher’s help us choose a student and we spend about an hour of their most ‘free time’ with them during their schools hours,” said Shelton. “For the most part we sit and talk with them, hang out and just spent time being their friend.”
On occasion King students will put their classroom skills to the test helping children with their studies when needed. However, the biggest reward is not necessarily in their grades but just having someone else in their corner.
“I think it was nice to be a role model that a child can look up to,” said Shelton. “It’s really nice to know that there are more eyes on you and there are those that are trying to build a friendship with you.”
King students filter in an out of five different elementary schools in Bristol through the Storm Chaser Mentor Program including Anderson, Avoca, Fairmount, Haynesfield, and Holston View elementary schools.
The mentoring portion of the project is a newer enhancement to what originated as a simple reading program established three years ago. What was originally known as the Storm Chaser Reading Program sent student-athletes into area schools to read to children and encourage reading outside of the classroom. Under Testa’s supervision the program has matured to involve more than half of King’s athletic teams and root student-athletes more deeply into the local school and the lives of those that walk their halls.
“There is no doubt that having positive, older role models is important to a child,” said Testa. “That is why I think there is a need for this program to continue and grow even more than it already has.”