by Tom Sims
Blame it all on Rice Krispies Treats.
To make the treats, you need something substantial (cereal), something sweet and sticky (marshmallows), and something gooey (margarine). To turn them into money to run a program, you need volunteers.
Fourteen years ago, Gail Harder’s son announced to his mother that her help was needed for a fund raiser at church for Community Youth Ministries in Reedley. It involved the annual sale of the sweet treats.
Her son came home from church and said, “Mom, they need babysitting.” Gail answered the call and one thing led to another. Before she knew it, she was mentoring a young mother who later grew up to be a CYM volunteer herself.
Gail has been a vital part of the CYM’s Teen Mother Mentoring Program ever since. “That’s where my heart is,” she says. “It’s where I put my energies.
Harder spent 25 years as a teacher and recently “retired.” For most of those years, she taught kindergarten, but for the last six, she managed the Cross-Age Tutoring Program at Reedley High School. In cross age tutoring, high school students are equipped to interface with elementary school students and everyone grows. It is the same way with mentoring, and Gail has experienced the two-way benefits first hand. She has been doing this long enough that she has seen children grow and recognize her at school. In fact, she has been present for some of their births. Kids drop by her house. Relationships last. She is on Facebook with some of the young women she has mentored.
Gail’s mission was first to the mothers. She says she is motivated by “watching them grow and make good choices.”
A young woman named Liz is a great example. She was present in the early days of Gail’s ministry. As she grew, she eventually married a good man and began to build a home. Now she is a vital, contributing member of the community and an active supporter of CYM and its programs. Gail calls it “giving back.”
Sandy Long, Community Relations Coordinator, says that Liz is “a young woman [Gail] mentored a number of years ago who is now raising a family and doing beautifully.”
In the beginning, all the mentoring took place one on one. Today, the program uses a small group approach. There are more moms than mentors and they all meet together once a week for conversation, games, support, and a meal.
Gail drives as far as Orange Cove to pick up the ladies and then drives them home. It affords her a great deal of conversation time in a quiet setting.
Mentors lead normal lives outside of their mentoring. That is what makes them good mentors. Their chief resource is themselves. Gail Harder’s life is rich and full beyond her volunteer work. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother. Her grandson is five and her granddaughter is two. She loves to have them in her home and she takes great delight in watching them grow. She enjoys biking and hiking and really loves going to her fitness classes three days a week. She is an active member of First Mennonite Church of Reedley.
Good mentoring is like making marshmallows. It requires at least three elements:
1. It requires something substantial. Mentors are people who have lived enough to have gained some experience and wisdom. They have substance in themselves as they pour their lives into their mentoring partners. It is obvious that Gail Harder has lived and learned and succeeded in life. She has brought her life experiences and wisdom into the mentoring experience.
2. It requires something sweet and sticky. There is no substitute for love and affection. You can sense the warmth in Gail’s voice as she talks about her girls. That level of genuine sweetness is what makes relationships “stick together.” Relationships, in turn, are what produce the growth in people.
3. The gooeyness of the fat is what binds everything together and gives it a common flavor. It is the structure and programmatic relationships that CYM provides, with oversight, that enable people like Gail Harder to focus on person to person ministry.
Put it all together and you have a tasty treat… or a changed life… or both. In the case of Gail, it is both and you can blame it all on Rice Krispies Treats.
To learn more about the programs and opportunities at Community Youth Ministries, visit their website.
To learn more specifics about the Teen Program, including mentoring relationships, weekly meetings, Mothers’ Day weekend retreat, family strengthening support, and other weekend retreats, visit the page for their Teen Mom Program.
You can contact CYM at
PO Box 816
Reedley, CA 93654
1592 11th Street, Suite E
Reedley, CA 93654
Find the official recipe for Rice Krispies Treats here.