Sonoco employees, West Hartsville Elementary students join new mentoring program

A partnership between West Hartsville Elementary School and Sonoco is giving students there a chance to work with positive role models, beyond their classroom teachers, on a weekly basis during school hours.

The PAWS program, which stands for Positive Advocates Working with Students, began earlier this school year and has seen tremendous success, according to West Hartsville Principal Julie Mahn.

“The relationships between our students and the volunteer mentors from Sonoco are strengthening with each visit,” Mahn said. “Students are beginning to open up and talk to the mentors. We are so fortunate to have such dedicated volunteers in our community.”

Spearheaded by John Florence, Sonoco vice president, human resources, general counsel and secretary, PAWS now has more than 30 members of Sonoco Cares, the company’s employee volunteer organization, visiting with students. The meetings are tailored to student needs and may consist of a quick lunch and games or longer, more instructional and inspirational visits.

“We are building strong, positive relationships with the students,” Florence said. “On the Sonoco side, we have been very encouraged by the number of people who want to participate. Ms. Mahn was instrumental in developing the program, and she and her staff have been very receptive from the beginning. West Hartsville offers to do whatever is needed to make the mentoring program a success and makes us feel very welcome and comfortable in the school.”

John Florence, corporate vice president, general counsel and secretary at Sonoco, meets with students from West Hartsville Elementary School. The students and Florence participate in the PAWS program, a new in-school mentoring program that has seen early success.

PAWS found its roots in Sonoco Cares’ desire to expand efforts in local educational programs.

Working alongside Sharman Poplava, executive director of the TEACH Foundation, Florence met several times with Mahn and identified an in-school mentoring program as a great fit.

Sonoco Cares designed the program accordingly, while Mahn identified an initial 30 students who would most benefit from the experience. The school and Sonoco Cares worked together to match student with mentor, and the school creatively settled on PAWS as the program’s name. Not coincidentally, the school’s mascot is a young fox.

The primary goal of PAWS is to provide positive, professional role models for students by supporting child development in the areas of language, cognitive and social skills.

The regular interaction between mentors and the fourth- and fifth-grade students aim to improve academic and behavioral outcomes. The program also flows seamlessly with Darlington County School District Superintendent Tim Newman’s initiative for every student in the district to have an adult role model outside of the classroom.

The students’ responses to the PAWS program have affirmed that mission.

Rondez, a mentee in the program, said that his mentor was “awesome,” because his mentor reads to him, spends time with him and makes him feel special.

A Sonoco employee and mentor in the PAWS program meets with a West Hartsville Elementary School student. The pair meet regularly to read, play games and chat as part of the program.

Akirah said her mentor is now her friend and “won’t break her heart.”

Another student in the program, Dylan, said his mentor takes time out of his busy day of meetings to come see him. They play games together.

And Tamia, another student in the program, said her mentor buys her books to read and games to play, all while “helping her with stuff.”

The first year of the program has already developed a foundation for future growth.

“This partnership allows members of the community to get an inside look at our school. We hope to have a celebratory ‘kick-off’ next year,” Mahn said. “We also want to develop a handbook that will help guide the program.”

Sonoco Cares agrees and feels the diversity of its volunteers can only help bring an exceptional blend of ideas to the table. PAWS mentors include vice presidents, research and development engineers, communications and administrative professionals, and customer service representatives.

“The swift response from Sonoco employees to our call for volunteers further confirms that Sonoco is full of people who care about the community where they live and work,” Florence said.

“The faculty and staff of West Hartsville Elementary School do a wonderful job every day educating their students and preparing them for life. We simply hope to add a small piece to that success.”

Author: Rachel Howell

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