Editor's note: This summer, Bill Bley, coordinator for the Mentor Center of Western Nevada, will tell stories of children and the adults who mentor them. This is the first.
by Bill Bley
Special to the Nevada Appeal
Four young adults held each other's arms as they walked up the aisle, placing a small gift of candies before Velma's casket.
A small tag on the gift simply read, "Candy Time." At the reception, the four explained how their lives had been touched by Velma - and the sweet relationships that started for all of them through a little bit of candy.
Upon moving into the neighborhood, Angie's mother brought her 8-year-old daughter to the house for an introduction. Velma, mom, met with them, and invited Angie to stop by after school.
Angie soon discovered it was "candy time" when she visited Velma. Word of this traveled from child to child, and Monica joined Angie in her daily visits. Eric and Cindy soon made it a foursome, and it became a tradition for the four children to gather at Velma's after school.
With their attention riveted on her, Velma told stories from her youth.
"During the Depression years, potatoes were all we had to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner," she said. "Those were tough years that gave us an appreciation for what little there was available. Then came the war, but eventually things changed for the better."
This time became the bright spot of Velma's day, and daily she shared revelations of her life with the children while involving them in activities, like baking cookies. Seeking to elude loneliness, Velma began this practice to satisfy a personal need, but it also became a bridge to security for the four children.
Three were from single-parent homes and one, having been abandoned early in life, lived with his grandmother. They feared being home alone or were not allowed to associate with neighbors with a certain reputation, so Velma's house was a refuge until a parent or guardian arrived home.
Velma became a mentor at the age of 72. Through her simple act of storytelling, engaging children in everyday activities and voicing words of encouragement, she fostered hope in the young people Her home was a safe haven and she a constant in their lives.
It all began with a few pieces of penny candy.
Velma continued this practice until health concerns forced her into a nursing home at 84. By then, the children had graduated high school and moved on with their lives, but they never forgot their mentor, Velma.
Will you take Velma's place by becoming a mentor? Call Ruth or Bill at the Mentor Center of Western Nevada 445-3346 or 445-3282, or apply today online. Go to www.wncc.edu/mentor. Look for the application form for volunteers - a PDF attachment.
• Bill Bley is IMPACT Coordinator for the Mentor Center of Western Nevada.