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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, October 23, 2005

Mentors serve up inspiration

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Glennie Adams watches as her Chaminade University players teach the basics of volleyball to a group of sweaty, exuberant children. The little kids all want to learn to jump-serve. The college athletes have to convince them that less-flashy things come first.

"I almost want to laugh," Adams says. Sometimes, it seems like her voice is coming out of her players. When given the opportunity to coach, the players morph into her, whether they realize it or not.

Fifty-one Chaminade University students are serving as mentors to kids at Waimanalo Elementary School this semester. First, professor Nani Lee presented the program to her 300-level ethics class as a service learning project. Thirty-seven students signed up to be part of the Century Program through the Foundation for Excellent Schools. The Silversword volleyball team decided by unanimous team vote to join in the effort.

For the past several weeks, Chaminade students have been on the Waimanalo campus nearly every day. The mentors meet one-on-one with the students, whom they refer to as "scholars." The college students help the young scholars with homework, talk about goal-setting and give the kids a realistic idea of what it's like to be in college.

The first hurdle was convincing the Waimanalo kids that their college mentors were really going to show up week after week. Others had made such promises and then stopped coming.

"What happened was, they anticipated that and they didn't show up," said sophomore Amber Feliciano. "So we'd call our scholars and reassure them, 'Yes, I'm going to be there. Are you going to be there?' "

"It requires commitment and resilience on their part," Lee said of her Chaminade students. "You have to deal with rejection when you're trying to be a do-gooder and no one shows up."

Over time, relationships were built and trust was earned. One boy brought his 'ukulele to school when he found out his mentor played. Another scholar calls his mentor's cell phone every morning to make sure she's up and ready for class. Soon, the scholars were arguing over who had the coolest mentor.

"It's not about being cool," Lee reminded her students.

"Yes, it is!" they said.

On a typical afternoon, the mentors and scholars meet in the library after school. When homework assignments are finished and checked, there's time for a game of chase master around the trees or a chat about ambition and possibilities.

"I had trouble connecting with my scholar in the beginning, but I was persistent," said sophomore Mark Lewis. "I had to learn about his life, show that I care."

And mostly, he had to show up and keep showing up.

The Silversword women's volleyball team comes every Tuesday afternoon, giving up that one day of practice every week even though they're in the middle of their season.

"It doesn't take away, it adds to our game," senior Amy Sumida says. "It helps us see the sport at the basic level again. The kids are so raw. They put their foot just where you tell them to. They do things exactly the way you tell them."

The players also talk about what it takes to be a college athlete the early morning workouts, demanding schedules, proper nutrition and the importance of grades. The players from Serbia talk about where they're from and how, on top of everything else they have to do, they get tutored in English.

"We talk about NCAA requirements for GPA and SATs, and they're like, 'Why? What are those for?' " junior Ashley Elliazar says.

"Volleyball becomes a motivation for academics," Sumida says.

Three weeks ago, the Silverswords treated 21 Waimanalo kids, plus their chaperones, to seats at their game against the University of Hawai'i-Hilo Vulcans. Chaminade was swept in three sets, but you wouldn't know it by the cheers from the Waimanalo contingent.

"Some of the players were dragging after the loss," says professor Jim Miller. "But as soon as they saw the Waimanalo students waiting for them after the game, it changed. The kids all cheered. The tent just erupted."

"The kids have people they know in college and they got to see them play. It was a big deal for them," says Waimanalo teacher Kenji Matsuda.

The team bought pizza for the kids after the game, shared the meal with them and promised to see them the next week.

And they did.

It is the first time in Adams' 12-year tenure that her team has done something like this. "Maybe a one-day clinic," she says. "Maybe one hour. But not like this, for six weeks."

Some of the college students have become attached to their scholars and are looking past the semester.

"I'll come back when the semester is done," says sophomore Deanne Soon.

On this day, one of the little kids has shown up in a kind of uniform she has put together herself. The first day of the volleyball clinic, she showed up with chunky-sole slippers, a cell phone and Tamagotchi hanging from her neck. Now, she's in black tights, athletic shoes, her school T-shirt, knee pads. She also has announced her intention to play collegiate volleyball.

"All they need is attention and they'll run a mile for you," Elliazar says.

"Not just attention, your attention," Lee corrects. "You're better than teachers or parents to them. You're accessible."

Elliazar, who dreams of someday being athletic director at her alma mater, Iolani School, is enjoying practicing being a teacher and a coach.

"The kids like to come back and tell us, 'I got an A today. Will that help me go to college?' And we say, 'Yes, yes it will.' "

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.