CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Champaign-Urbana consists of several schools with a focus on providing their students the best education and experiences. That comes in the form of after-school programming and sports. At Unit 4 and Urbana District 116, there are also opportunities for mentorship between students and the community itself with the C-U One-to-One Program.

Started in 1994 to increase students’ potential for promising futures, the program has seen 510 C-U graduates from 1994 to 2022. However, this year there are 300 students without an adult mentor even though over 500 students are paired with one. That’s why this week, they not only held their first training of the year but they called on the community to help fill those gaps. On Wednesday night, to no one’s surprise, several Central Illinois residents came to answer the call.

That includes Artie Hill, a retired police officer who served the Chicagoland area for 35 years, 27 of them as a juvenile officer and investigator. So his introduction to working with youth won’t be as a mentor for C-U One-to-One. But he’s hoping his past experiences serving communities as a member of law enforcement can help hold his mentee into a successful citizen. Especially since he has a strong relationship with his own grandkids. Artie wants to spread the light love brings.

“If there’s a young man that needs help that would accept me as I accept him, to meet them at their level. If I can be effective in changing the path of their life and make a citizen out of them, where they can be prosperous. Where they can add to society, that would fill my heart.”

But before Artie and the other adults who attended Wednesday’s training can become official mentors, they have to pass a background check. Depending on where you live, you may also have to ink your fingerprints. Aside from that, the process is seamless and straightforward. But the rewards that come from connecting with youth, learning from them, and seeing their talents are what excites Artie most. Another trainee that night, Mike Larson, shares that same mentality.

Like Artie, Mike was encouraged to pursue the path of C-U One-to-One mentorship by the love of his life and leading lady. Artie’s fiance is a current mentor and Mike’s wife teaches at a school in Champaign and knows firsthand what students are missing. But Mike is also no stranger to investing in our youth. He’s coached youth sports and now wants to make a transition but still have just as much impact. That’s why his goal is to not only lead by example but to learn from his mentee.

“I can see the need just at the one school my wife works at. It’s a great thing, something i did a long time ago for a couple of years. I’ve been coaching youth sports so i got a passion for kids and that career’s done for now so i’m moving back into mentoring. I’m excited to join the group and to play a little part in changing kid’s lives.”

The C-U One-to-One program is a chance for students to potentially earn scholarships to four-year, two-year or community colleges, as long as they’re active in the program three years at least. That milestone can lead to $14,000 by semester. Mentors must also spend an hour a week on school grounds with their mentee. To fill out an application for mentorship, just click here.

To learn more about the program itself, click here.

You can also support the students by donating if you click here.

Your donations contribute to scholarships made available to graduated mentees and also ensure this program continues to thrive in Unit 4 and Urbana District 116 schools for future students.