Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Shine On! outreach mentors change lives

By Kolin Kriner


Shine On!, a nonprofit organization designed to build confidence in elementary-school children, is in the search for education outreach mentors.


Colleen Lemza, chair of the department of journalism and public relations, founded Shine On! 16 years ago, after an incident involving her daughter being bullied for having off-brand shoes. This, mixed with clear signs of confidence issues at kindergarten age, made Lemza realize that the feelings her daughter was experiencing were caused by the media.


“I couldn’t protect them forever,” Lemza said. “I needed to make them tough and strong.”

When Shine On! initially began, prior to it receiving its name, it consisted of four students having a conversation with a small group of young girls about the media. When word got out about the discussion, people in the community began asking Lemza when she would be holding a conversation like that again.


The following year, Shine On! received its name and a grant which allowed it to put on its first workshop in Plattsburgh, which 90 young girls attended. Since then, Shine On! has grown, extending educational outreach and holding an annual conference to educate young girls on how to be confident and optimistic despite what is being portrayed in the media. The conference and outreach also work on building the girls’ character strengths of grit, willpower, individuality, social intelligence, curiosity and kindness.


Sierra Wood, a former mentor who attended the conference in her youth, described her time working with Shine On! as an enriching and transformative experience.


“The supportive environment fosters a sense of belonging and empowers both us mentors and the children to embrace their unique qualities,” Wood said. “Witnessing the blossoming self-esteem of the children as they overcome challenges and celebrate achievements is truly heartening.”


Education outreach mentors will go into classrooms weekly for 30 minute sessions to present education about manipulation in the media. The education is delivered over the course of nine weeks through pre-prepared workshops targeted at young girls. The mentors give the girls a “toolbox” of media literacy skills as well as tools to grow their character strengths.


Students who participate in the program as an outreach mentor can choose to do so for college credit, or even get paid. The program has a rate of $15 an hour for presenting in classrooms. Mentors work in pairs to help ease the anxieties of teaching a large group of children.

Committee Chair Molly Nelligan stressed the importance of the mentors to the program.


“Without our mentors, there would be no program. The central idea of our program is that girls look up to the ‘cool college-aged woman,’” Nelligan explained. “Our mentors are the catalyst for our message, and with their help the children within our program grasp the concept of our message a lot easier and in a fun way.”


Lemza stated that working with this program looks great on a resume, too, as it provides classroom and public speaking experience. The opportunity to contribute to the community enhances both personal and professional growth allowing members to make new connections.

Working with Shine On! proves to be fulfilling, fun and heartwarming.


For more information about Shine On! and education outreach mentors, contact Colleen Lemza at lemzaca@plattsburgh.edu or Molly Nelligan at mnell001@plattsburgh.edu.


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