Our organization was founded in August, 2008. Prior to that, former director, Mrs. Tricia Cheesman had retired to Garrett County, Maryland and began volunteering with a children’s organization in the area. Through her work, she and a small group of individuals began feeling that there could be changes made to better meet the needs of children in this area. She and a group of others sharing her vision formed a board of directors and upon being granted non-profit status, Garrett Mentors, Inc. was officially established in 2008.
The program was welcomed and seen as very beneficial for the children in the area in need of a positive adult role model for various reasons. Local individuals began signing up to become mentors serving these children and individuals who had been working with children through the former organization became mentors as well. To meet the financial needs of the children and the organization, Garrett Mentors Inc. began holding an annual Barn Dance fundraiser at Ridgeview Valley in McHenry each September.
Backed by a strong board of directors, the school system staff and numerous local supporters, by it’s fifth year in existence, the program was had many solid volunteer mentors, each matched with a Garrett County Public School child in Kindergarten through grade 5. Typically, most mentors serve one child, but a few mentors have chosen to serve two children.
In March of 2013 we were honored to receive the Golden Apple Award by Peter Franchot, Comptroller of Maryland for superior volunteer work in the Maryland public schools. Tricia and the Board of Directors accepted the award at a ceremony at Route 40 Elementary. In April of 2013, the organization bid Tricia farewell as she left Maryland for a move south.
Our Board of Directors hired Mrs. Laura Fike to fill Tricia’s position as program director in April of 2013. Laura had taught Child and Adolescent Development and Family and Consumer Sciences in Montgomery County, Maryland for five years and had taught second grade for two years prior to that. Laura had just moved to the Garrett County area for a job opportunity her husband, a Garrett County native, had been offered. Her teaching and volunteer background and skills mixed with a warm welcome by the organization and community made for a quick and smooth transition into the role and the program and it’s mission has continued to expand and evolve. Preschool children were added to the organization and the program has gained greater momentum, attracting more volunteers and more community support and awareness. The program is also evolving a vision to allow the children in the program to begin practicing “giving back” to the community as well.
In August, 2013, our organization celebrated it’s 5th anniversary and in May, 2014, the Garrett Mentors Joan Johnson Inspiration Award was established by the organization to honor the contributions of former board member Joan Johnson who later pased away in 2014. The purpose of this award is to recognize a mentor or community member who inspires others by their service to Garrett Mentors or the community overall. The first recipient of the award, Suzanne Harle, was presented with the honor in June,, 2014 and a new honoree is chosen each year.
September 2014, another big change came to Garrett Mentors when the program was expanded into grade 6 at the middle school, allowing mentors to help with the elementary-to-middle school transition as they continue to meet with their mentee during lunch at middle school.
In 2016 the organization established The Garrett Mentors Rear Admiral Richard B. Schiff Memorial Scholarship with The Garrett College Foundation in memory of our past President and friend, Rick Schiff, who passed away in September 2015. The purpose of the scholarship shall be to provide support and benefit for Garrett College students. The scholarship is designed to assist students from Garrett County. Candidates who were enrolled in the Garrett Mentors, Inc. program will be given preference. Secondary preference will be given to military members or current or former military dependents.
In 2016 our Annual Barn Dance Fundraiser relocated to Sang Hill Farms in McHenry to accommodate our growing number of guests. In 2020 we were unable to hold our Barn Dance Fundraiser and participated in the Tucker Community Foundation virtual”Run for It” fundraising campaign instead. Since then we have continued to take part in Run for It campaign and event (now back in perosn) each fall as our main fundraising campaign for the year.
In 2018, Garrett Mentors launched a “card for cancer” program encouraging the children and mentors in our program to work together at lunchtime to make uplifting cards for local Cindy’s Fund patients undergoing cancer treatments. That same year, the organization was voted “Garrett County’s favorite non-profit” by our community in the Deep Creek Times People’s Choice Challenge! Garrett Mentors also celebrated its 10th anniversary which was acknowledged and celebrated by the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Senator from Maryland Chris Van Hollen.
In 2020, like most other businesses and non-profits, Garrett Mentors faced significant challenges with the Covid-19 pandemic. With schools being virtual only, mentors and children were no longer able to meet in schools together at lunchtime as in the past. We worked hard to reimagine ways to connect mentors and children during this difficult and unpredictable time and to continue providing the students in our program with resources and needs along the way. We launched a pen pal program for mentors and students to keep in touch and created several other projects to continue providing our services in a new and different way. Garrett Mentors has been very successful in doing all of these things and continues to thrive despite the challenges we faced during that time. The 2022-2023 schoolyear was our first totally normal school year after the challenges of Covid. We had many students age out during the two years we were unable to set up new children with mentors. Since then we have been focused on rebuilding our program. Due to her work with our organization, our Executive Director, Laura Fike was named on the 2022 Maryland Daily Record’s list of the Top 40 Leading Women Under 40 in the state and in 2023 received the Bridgewater College of Virginia Young Alumnus Award as well as the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce’s Volunteer of the Year Award.
Now in our 15th year, we know the future is bright! We are successfully setting up new mentors and children all school year long and planning memorable bonding activities for the mentors and children to participate in together once again! We are so grateful to our community for 15 amazing years!