Valerie Calderon has spent the last decade working as a senior consultant at Gallup, an analytics and advice firm that uses research data to help organizations solve problems and develop strategies. Her work involves directing the Gallup Student Poll, which measures levels of engagement, hope, entrepreneurial aspiration, and career and financial literacy among students from grades five through 12.
Her passion for helping students, however, extends beyond regular business hours. Calderon is a former substitute teacher and children’s minister with a Ph.D. in theology. She spends her free time serving as the vice president on the Bennington School District’s Board of Education and mentoring a local student through, and sitting on the board of, the Bennington chapter of TeamMates.
“Nudging the trajectory in a student’s life is really satisfying,” Calderon said. “Just being there to show you’re on their side, I’m here to help, you can make a real difference.”
Tom and Nancy Osborne co-founded the TeamMates mentoring program in 1991 in Nebraska. What began as a team of football players volunteering their time to mentor local middle school students nearly 30 years ago has grown into a multi-state mentoring program designed to match volunteers with students in their communities.
“I especially love that the program allows students to not have to miss a great deal of school time,” Calderon said. “The goal is for matches to meet at least once a week, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. It’s not a lot of time, but it is a lot of impact.”
When Calderon began volunteering through TeamMates, she was matched with a local sixth-grade student. She still meets with that same mentee, now a sophomore in high school. Calderon said her mentee is a hardworking kid who is always thinking ahead. Most of the mentoring sessions occur at the student’s home school, but the pair occassionally venture to other places.
“Each year, Henry Doorly Zoo sponsors TeamMates matches to come for an end-of-year celebration,” Calderon said. “It’s always one of our favorite days.”
TeamMates officially started in the Bennington school district in 2014, when the district’s school principals saw a need for their students. Calderon was an original board member and key player for the new chapter.
“Valerie’s area of expertise is a valuable asset to our board, but even more noteworthy is her passion for making a difference in the lives of students,” said Regina Meradith, executive director of the Bennington Public Schools Foundation. Meradith also sits on the board of the Bennington TeamMates chapter with Calderon. “The wealth of knowledge she brings from her work at Gallup, combined with her experience as a TeamMates mentor and parent in the community have played a part in our program’s success.”
Calderon believes mentorship in the community is something that can benefit everyone. The TeamMates program is available to all students free of charge and funded through donations
“We continue to grow the number of matches every year and there’s always a need for new mentors, and that just never stops,” Calderon said. “You don’t have to have…a certain kind of expertise, you just need to be willing to spend time with the student, to hang out with them and be their cheerleader, and let them know that they have someone in their corner.”