Matt Liscom and sixth-grader Cody Cox both hovered for a brief moment crouched under the basket, each laughing and waiting for the other to make a move during their recess game of "bump."

The shots finally went up, right before Cody took his own basketball and bumped Matt's over the Sunridge Middle School playground fence, triggering a playful yell of dismay from the grown-up as he ran off.

What started as a game of three eventually attracted about three other kids who joined the fun.

"A lot of times, by the time you're done, having an adult attracts a lot of other kids," Matt said, taking a breather while the students carried on.

Matt and Cody are one of several pairs of buddies matched through the Pendleton School District mentoring program, now in its third year.

The premise of the program - designed to encourage self-esteem and attendance among the students - involves the mentor spending one hour a week with the student, typically during the lunch hour. The partners can hang out in the designated program classroom stocked with cards, puzzles and board games.

Cody and Matt - a comedic duo who first started hanging out once a week while Cody was a fifth-grader - meet each Wednesday to eat, sometimes finding other shenanigans amidst their banter.

"Last year I did a little more school work with him. This year we're just kind of hanging out," Matt said. "A lot of times we'll come in and wolf our lunch and go play basketball. Unless it's real miserable out, and then we have to play basketball in here."

He was referring to a makeshift setup in which they take the program assistant Wendy Sorey's trash can and tie it to the overhead projector screen for a basket.

"They jump off tables and chairs," Sorey said. "And, you know, they don't do anything inappropriate, but they really have a fun time. They love to laugh."

"He's a lot of fun. He has a great sense of humor. He's real mild-mannered. And ..." Matt began.

"That's how my mom raised me," Cody interjected, triggering his mentor's distinct chuckle.

"... Shy," Matt joked.

Matt and Cody weren't the only pair enjoying each other's company Wednesday. Seventh-grader Jennifer (who requested her real name not be used) went head-to-head earlier in a friendly Scrabble match against her community mentor, Karen Allen.

Jennifer's best combination was for "weave," but the two were having an amusing argument whether Karen's "zat" was actually a word.

"It is. It's in a bubble in a cartoon, you know? 'Zat!'" Karen said.

In addition to competitive board games, the two enjoy working together at things like scrapbooking. They have been meeting for almost two years now.

"I think kind of the most rewarding thing for me was when I felt Jennifer could tell me personal things about herself, how she was feeling about something," Karen said. "I get more out of being a mentor than probably she does being a mentee."

Like all relationships, it took a little time for the two to warm up to each other.

"I was really excited and stuff, but it was a new person and I wasn't really ready to tell people what had happened," Jennifer said, nervously fidgeting with a napkin. "But then I realized that Karen's just there to help me and be another person to support me through what I've been going through."

For students like Jennifer, a mentor represents someone constant and reliable. Over the past few months alone, Jennifer has been in three separate foster care situations.

When Karen went on vacation to Hawaii, she sent back post cards and - through Sorey - planned a cell-phone conversation with Jennifer on her birthday. Jennifer, in turn, once made Karen an elaborate card thanking her mentor for her friendship.

"I love Karen. She's so much fun," Jennifer said. "If I'm having a tough time in class and stuff, and I'm not having a good time with my friends, Karen always makes it better."

In its third year of existence - started through grant money and the coordination of Matt's wife Shelley Liscom, principal at West Hills Elementary - the program has taken off, making true believers out of those involved.

As of now, Sorey's mentoring program has upwards of 60 students - in grades four through eight - and more than 50 adult mentors. Both kids and adults come from all walks of life. Sometimes a teacher refers a student. Sometimes the students express interest on their own.

"These are kids that are on the brink of success," Sorey said, emphasizing the hour a week sometimes provides the extra attention a kid needs to build their confidence. "Just that little bit of social and one-on-one time helps them through the rest of the week."

For a couple of years, according to Sorey, Cody's parents had a hard time encouraging their son to participate in things like youth basketball. This year, she said, "He asked his mom to sign him up."

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Matt said. "I'm just lucky my schedule allows me to be able to come in here during the week ... "

"Me, too," Cody interrupted again, always the kidder. "It's fun. I love it. Like Matt said, I wouldn't miss it for the world."

Those interested in volunteering can contact Sorey at 966-3470 and find more information on the district Web site, www.pendleton.k12.or.us.

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