Officer Dustin Cade and Pastor Tim Weihrauch are two of over twelve individuals who pride themselves on being members of Vandalia schools’ distinctive mentoring initiative, the Vandalia ONE CREW (Civility, Respect, Engagement at the Workplace and school).
The group’s overall mission is to build organic relationships between community members and students so that every student has access to at least one supportive adult during a time of delicate social and behavioral development. CREW members represent various backgrounds, including local business owners, faith leaders, law enforcement, farmers, and anyone else that meets the group’s criteria of what defines a positive role model.
The CREW emerged as an idea during the height of the pandemic when area Edward Jones Financial Advisor, Aaron Alderson, noticed a pressing need during a pressing time. “When everything was going crazy and we were shut down, we were all having to distance ourselves from everybody,” Weihrauch says. “It just kind of hit [Aaron] that there’s students out there that need other people. So he put something together and then he sat down with Dr. Garrison, and they formulated this initial document, and then invited us in.” Cade sees the goal of the CREW as “putting a good, positive role model” in a student’s life in hopes that “you can reach a connection and build a relationship, be it older brother to younger brother, trusted adult to child.” The relationship should provide a space where students can learn to trust that adult and hopefully learn and grow from the example that person sets in the community. The outcomes the CREW work toward are based on a 2015 study from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University that states every child that does well has “at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult.”
Weihrauch explains the relationship role in detail, saying, “I tend to talk about it in regard to a wheel. There are going to be hubs and spokes, and some of us are going to be a hub for different individuals. I may connect with a student, and they’ll have different relationships. Naturally, because we’re part of that wheel, they’re going to trust people, whereas Dustin is going to have a different wheel of influence and relationships.” Part of becoming that wheel is simply showing up in spaces where students gather, whether that be hallways, the cafeteria, or the gym during a basketball game. CREW members try to establish natural rapport with students, going from table to table in the cafeteria and connecting with specific groups of students based on a heads-up from the administration. As this is the program’s flagship year, CREW members hope their presence will seem less deliberate as time goes on and students will grow accustomed to having additional supportive adults around.
According to Weihrauch, CREW members should share the qualities of a good friend, community member, and/or business owner. “I think it’s important that people know that we’re not here to just hear kids, we’re here to actually listen,” Cade says. “Kids just need to talk sometimes, so we’re here for that. But we’re trying to establish that a step further and see where they can place that trust in us to where, not only are we hearing them, but we get to actually listen to what they need and be a good role model to meet those needs.”
The CREW is adamant that their efforts are not a “quick fix type of thing,” but a movement that will gain momentum and student trust as it progresses. “I want people to understand we’re not throwing something together that’s going to die next year,” Weihrauch stresses. “You’re trying to find some of the [students] that maybe don’t have a supportive adult. Those are the ones that are falling through the cracks or maybe get overlooked or aren’t in the natural flow of everybody else.”
“I think everyone knows kids are the important resource worldwide,” Cade says, “and if we don’t invest in our kids then we’re leaving them to try and figure out a lot of things on their own.” With a dedicated team of people from all different walks of life, it’s promising to know each and every student who might lack consistent adult support in their lives will have that need met and flourish through the enthusiastic commitment of the Vandalia ONE CREW.