January 10, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

A number of La Grande Middle School students will soon have adult mentors to help guide them through a challenging phase of their life.

An adult mentoring program for boys is beginning at the school. Each mentor will be assigned to a boy who he will meet with at school for four hours a month.

We want to expose boys to more positive male role modeling, said Jim Mollerstrom, president of Community Resource Services.

Mollerstroms company has been contracted by the La Grande School District to operate the program, which is titled the Men Encouraging Natural Transitions Of Readiness (MENTOR) Project.

Mentors will help students with academic work and participate in recreational activities at La Grande Middle School. In addition mentors and boys involved in the program will meet periodically away from school for group activities such as bowling.

Mentors at school will be encouraged to be involved in a mix of academic and recreational activities. Mentors will be able to do things such as assist students with homework and help them with metal shop and wood shop projects. They will also be able to play games like basketball.

One of the objectives of the program is to help boys develop confidence in themselves at a critical point in their lives, said LMS Principal Doug Hislop. Hislop and La Grande High School Principal Doug Potter helped develop the mentor program.

Many youths will be able to work with their mentor through their freshman year of high school.

Mollerstrom wants to have 10 to 15 mentors involved initially. All volunteers must pass criminal background and personal reference checks. Those selected must attend five training sessions in February. Each session will be two hours and 15 minutes and will be led by Mollerstrom.

Mollerstrom is a consultant who specializes in developing youth programs. He has received extensive training from the Portland-based National Mentor Center. Mollerstrom is the only person in the United States to have received the full 60 hours of training offered by the center.

Mollerstrom said mentors will be taught that they are not to impose their values on the boys.

We want them to be non-judgmental, but supportive, said Mollerstrom.

He added that mentors will not be taking the place of a family member.

They will understand that they will not replace ... but are to support the family, Mollerstrom said.

Students will be chosen if administrators feel they will benefit from the program. Parental permission will be required.

The MENTOR Program is being funded by a grant from the Union County Commission on Children and Families and the La Grande School District.

Men interested in serving as mentors should call the La Grande Middle School at 663-3420 for an application packet.