Richard Annorat is a mentor on the Albion College campus, assisting students from under-represented populations adjust to college life through his work in the Smooth Transitions program.
Instead of heading to his Naples, Fla., home for the summer, Annorat was one of two Briton student-athletes (swimmer Anna Moore was the other) who were among six college students to volunteer for Albion's Big Read program. The junior plays safety for the Briton football team and has achieved all-Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association status in track & field as an indoor league champion in the high jump.
Now in its third year, Albion's Big Read is a program that inspires young people to love reading and brings the community together through shared reading experiences. It provides the community with a month's worth of arts and humanities programming and with the opportunity to join book discussions led by local 8th-10th graders who are a part of Albion's Big Read Youth Leadership Program. This year's discussions will be about Charles Portis' 1968 novel True Grit. Although Albion's Big Read itself won't take place until October, the college volunteers spent part of their summer assisting Professor of English Jess Roberts and Assistant Director of Albion's Big Read Madeline Drury, '15, in training the middle and high school student leaders.
"I've always had great mentors in my life – brothers, both of my parents were there for me – and they instilled the values of what it means to be an adult, to be respectful," Annorat said. "I didn't realize everything they were teaching me when I was a kid, but it has started to make sense to me, and I wanted to teach those lessons to other children, especially those who are less privileged than me. Privilege isn't just a matter of socioeconomic status, but there are those who don't have a strong, positive role model in their life. I want to do my part to help kids become the best they can be.
"I love reading and how it gives you the opportunity to put yourself in someone else's shoes," he added. "Putting my interests of working with children and reading together made Albion's Big Read the perfect opportunity."
While Annorat reaped the rewards of watching the 20 middle and high school students become more confident as they discussed key themes of the book, he was humbled by making the breakthrough of earning the trust of the youth.
"We talked to the children about how to understand what they read," Annorat said. "The kids know how to read, but they're really not understanding what they are reading. We also taught leadership skills because, in October, the students will be have to be leaders and make presentations in the community. We taught them how to have confidence in themselves and in what they learned. The Big Read gives these children an opportunity to use their voice and be heard.
"A specific takeaway I had from Albion's Big Read was when one of the students who said he doesn't have a positive male role model told me recently I was his role model and that he looks up to me," Annorat added. "That, to me, was a triumph because this kid lives in Albion, goes to school in Marshall and struggles to be accepted. It would be easy to go down a wrong path, but he sees me playing college sports, getting good grades and working in the community. That put a fire in him to be a good person, no matter the circumstances he's in."
A double major in psychology and English, Annorat first became involved in mentoring children from the community bi-weekly visits with a student at Harrington Elementary School in Albion. He said working with the middle and high school students involved in Albion's Big Read gives him experience with an older population to better simulate those he'll be working with on the Albion College campus.
"The Big Read allowed me to work with older youth and expand my understanding of how to talk to different audiences," Annorat said. "When I speak to an incoming college students in Smooth Transitions, they may have issues I have encountered personally, and I can talk to them accordingly.
"I play sports, but not everyone does," he added. "It doesn't mean the only conversations we can have are related to sports. I can talk about books, Star Wars, cartoons, food. I can work with people to find a shared interest for conversation. One thing I learned is how younger people are influenced by their peers. I encouraged the students to be yourself and embrace the things about them that make them unique."
With the college football season nearing, and the track campaign rolling quickly behind, Annorat will try to stay connected and serve as a role model for kids in the community.
"Just because the school year is starting, it doesn't mean that my involvement as a mentor turns off," Annorat said. "I have football and track, but I will still be very involved in mentoring at the elementary and middle schools. I'll be working everyday trying to make an impact on somebody's life."
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