Some of the most powerful bonding experiences Daniel McNeil, program director of Grand Area Mentoring, had with his childhood mentors were during meals. There’s something about eating together that brings people together, he said.

When McNeil applied for the Seeds to Start Grant through Moonflower Community Cooperative, on behalf of Grand Area Mentoring, he had those moments in mind: his proposed use of the grant money would be to supply mentors and mentees with vouchers for Moonflower, so the pairs could learn about, buy and enjoy snacks together.

Grand Area Mentoring was awarded the grant in December. The mentoring program started in 2005, pairing up adult volunteers with children who are seeking guidance. The mentors and mentees meet for an hour every week and build a friendship. 22 currently paired mentors/mentees will benefit from the Moonflower grant, McNeil said.

“I think it’ll give the [mentees] a new opportunity to shop someplace where they might not have ever been before,” McNeil said. “They’re going to experience something new, their horizons are going to be broadened, and they’re going to have a bonding experience with their mentors.”

When the program started, it was based within the Grand County School District—mentors would meet their mentees there. But a few years ago, McNeil developed a new program: once mentees have formed a friendship with their mentor and reach middle school, they can meet with their mentors off school grounds.

The purpose of the Moonflower Seeds to Start Grant is to supply financial assistance to any local nonprofit or individual that will “cultivate holistic community wellness,” which can be interpreted in a variety of ways, said Maggie Keating, the marketing and outreach coordinator at Moonflower.

“The mentor and mentees can use the grant as an experience to learn about so many different things in the co-op,” she said. “Anything from local food and local farms to the environmental impact of our globalized food system, and why we try to focus so much on sourcing our food locally and fairly and sustainably.”

She and three other employees at the co-op were on the grant committee this year and ultimately picked Grand Area Mentoring because they were inspired by the idea that the grant could be used to directly educate community members who may not otherwise have that opportunity.

Grand Area Mentoring is always looking to expand its number of adult mentors, McNeil said—right now, the program has over 20 children on the waiting list. In 2020, the program had to take a break due to complications with the COVID-19 pandemic. But toward the end of last year, the program started to slowly ramp up again: a new cohort of mentors started in September, and another cohort will start at the end of January 2022.

Adult volunteers go through a significant screening and training process before being paired, and it works: the national average for mentor-mentee program relationships is around six months, McNeil said, but the Grand Area Mentoring mentors typically work with their mentees for at least three years.

“Many mentors find this volunteer opportunity extremely rewarding,” McNeil said. “There’s a real need for more mentors. We’d like to match some of these kids who are eager to have a mentor and eager to have some guidance with the kind, responsible adults we know are out there in Moab.”

Mentees range from first grade to twelfth grade, with most new matches being made at the elementary school level—the ideal time for a child to enter the program is between second and fifth grade, McNeil said.

Any adults interested in volunteering can download an application on the Grand Area Mentoring website (www.grandmentoring.org). The next mentor orientation is on Thursday, Jan. 27.