Juan Luna

Mentor to many ‘listens’ to at-risk children

Charles Agar
The Herald-Zeitung
Published October 31, 2009

Juan Luna knows what it means to get a little help when you need it.

When Luna, 53, first went to elementary school as a child in Seguin, the native Spanish speaker struggled to learn English and keep up. But a few young teachers reached out to help him.

And with nearly 20 years mentoring area kids as part of Communities in Schools (CIS), Luna is paying back the favor.

Just as he does every week, this past Tuesday, Luna met Nathaniel Ybarra, 9, at the library of Freiheit Elementary School in New Braunfels.

The two just went over a few word problems in the short visit, but it’s that regular interaction with a caring adult that is so important to kids who need just a little extra attention, said M’Lissa Steel, mentor coordinator at CIS in New Braunfels.

Communities in Schools is a New Braunfels nonprofit that is part of a nationwide organization serving at-risk kids. CIS in Comal County serves 27 area schools and the mentoring program is just one part of a network of support to help children stay in school.

“I listen. That’s basically what I do,” Luna said.

Luna, a machinist with Texas Industries, said he’s probably mentored more than 30 kids over the years, long before the CIS program started in the area. Some of the children are incredibly shy, while others just don’t stop talking, he said.

Whatever the child’s needs, Luna is calm and patient.

“I get a sense of trying to help people in the way I was helped,” Luna said.

Steel oversees about 100 active mentors but hopes to sign up at least 40 more volunteers for this school year, she said.

Mentors must supply two recommendations, pass a background check and attend a training class, but there is no experience required. Mentors can choose the school and the age of student they’d like to work with.

“We try to match the child up with someone who’s similar in ways so they’ll make that connection,” she said. And she chooses kids who are on the “brink of success,” not the programs most at-risk children.

“I think the mentors get a sense of making a difference,” Steel said. “Your actions with that child have future results.”

“There are always kids that are going to need help,” Luna said.

To get involved, contact Communities in Schools at (830) 620-4247 or visit www.cis-sct.org.

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