SHELTON, Conn. -- Bob Van Egghen has worked at Perkin-Elmer for 43 years. So you can imagine the Shelton man’s surprise when he was “fired” by the second-grader he mentored after just a few meetings.
In the intervening 10 years, Van Egghen has been fired more frequently by his young charge than onetime Yankees Manager Billy Martin. But he has managed to work past the early difficulties with Kyle, now a senior at Shelton High School.
Shelton's School-based mentoring program started in 1995 under the direction of former Superintendent of Schools Leon Sylvester. It now includes 75 students in grades K-12. About 25 children are on a waiting list to be paired with a mentor.
- Who : Bob Van Egghen, Shelton
- What : Perkin-Elmer engineer and longtime mentor in Shelton Public Schools
- Did you know? January is National Mentor Month
- More info: Click here to visit the Shelton Public Schools Mentor Program website
“Kyle truly has a unique personality,’’ said Van Egghen, a quality assurance engineer and customer complaint coordinator who started at PE in 1974. “He’s very intelligent, and very much his own individual.”
Van Egghen has been part of the Shelton mentoring program for 15 years. He worked with Kyle for a few years until the boy moved to Florida. In the meantime, VanEgghen took on another Shelton student as a mentee. Van Egghen stayed in contact with Kyle for a bit, but the communication eventually stopped.
When Kyle returned to the Shelton district last year, he sought out his former guidance counselor and asked if Van Egghen could be his mentor again. The Perkin-Elmer engineer happily agreed, and now works with both students.
Van Egghen said that through the years Kyle has been fascinated by many different subjects. "He became an expert in whatever piqued his interest," said Van Egghen. "First it was vacuum cleaners — he knew everything about them. Then travel campers, it was the same thing. I marveled at his knowledge of these very diverse topics."
Kyle also had a big personality in school, where Van Egghen said he was “the unofficial Mayor of Booth Hill,’’ Kyle's former elementary school. Van Egghen said Kyle fought through some rough emotional patches.
"When he’d fire me, he'd say he was fine and didn’t need me anymore,’’ Van Egghen said. “He’d give the impression that he didn't care, but I knew deep down that he did. I just kept coming back, showing him how much I cared and how glad I was to be his mentor. Here we are today ... all these years later. It's pretty amazing."
“I would just get frustrated and feel bad, but I really wanted him to come back again,’’ Kyle said.
Van Egghen, who mentors his students for an hour every other week, said progress reports from the district helped him to know his impact with Kyle. “When you’re imbedded in it, it’s hard to tell week to week if you're making a difference,’’ Van Egghen said. “But I would get these reports, and they felt like he was indeed making progress.”
Van Egghen, father of two adult children, said he drew on his child-raising experience to connect with Kyle. He also encouraged the boy to pursue his passions.
"I’m not there to judge him,’’ Van Egghen said. “He’s a bright, talented capable person. He can do whatever he puts his mind to. Sometimes he’ll get down on himself. I try to show him that maybe it's not as bad a situation as he thinks it is, especially as long as you’re productive. You can’t allow your mind to go fallow. You have to keep on learning. Find a dream, and follow it. Kyle talks now of wanting to become a nurse, and I think he’d be great at it. Nothing intimidates him.”
“He's helped me with coping skills, being able to talk to people,’’ Kyle said. “Before, I was really shy. I didn’t talk to anybody. He helped me open up.”
Van Egghen says he enjoys being a mentor to help boys find the silver lining in tough situations, show them that they are capable and that they have to have faith in themselves.
“My family calls me the eternal optimist,’’’ he said. “No matter what happens in life I believe some good will come of it. It may take time to see it but there always is a silver lining. All these kids need is something stable in their life, someone to believe in them. No matter how small or inconsequential, they need something they can depend on every week. Being a mentor does just that."
Van Egghen said he’d recommend mentoring to others. “I’d recommend it without a moment’s hesitation,’’ Van Egghen said. “It’s fulfilling, it does not absorb a lot of your time and it’s structured. I think what Kyle likes is that he sees me as a friend, someone he can count on. I’ve told him if you need my help, want to run something by me, I’ll be there. That consistency and stability is a very important part of mentoring."
For more information on how to become part of the mentoring program in Shelton, contact Valerie Knight-Di Gangi, mentor program coordinator, at 203-924-1023, ext,336. or firstname.lastname@example.org.
"For an hour each week, you can make a difference in a child's life that can last a lifetime,'' Knight-Di Gangi said.
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