Reprinted with Permission from Plymouth Record Enterprise
By Donna Rhodes
Deborah "Fox" Smith vows to continue mentoring
January is National Mentoring Month, which made it the perfect time for the Circle Program to celebrate Deborah Smith, known to all as "Fox," who recently announced her retirement as director of the Teen Adventure Program, but agreed to continue her work with young women.
"I started the teen program seven years ago, and now it's gotten to be more of a full time job, so I'm retiring from that position, but I'm definitely staying on as a mentor," she said.
Fox has always been involved with children, beginning as a teen, when she graduated from Girl Scout camp and went to work as a counselor with the younger girls.
"My saving grace was going to camp in the summer, where I met other people and learned how to be independent. Through that, I found I could relate to children of all ages, and it was something I loved doing," said Fox.
Over the course of several years, she put herself through school at seven different colleges as she and her family moved around the country. She took classes at each of them until she finally received her teaching degree from Keene State College.
"I stuck with it because I just really wanted to be out there working with kids," Fox said.
And that she did. She taught for 25 years in Rindge and in Clinton, Conn. before moving to Moultonborough in 1999, where she became a substitute teacher in both Ashland and the Inter-Lakes School District.
Besides substitute teaching, her neighbor, who was a mentor, also got Fox immediately signed on to the Circle Program.
"I grew up with a single mom, and it wasn't always easy for her. I could easily have been one of the girls in the Circle Program myself, so I was excited to get involved," she said.
Over the past 16 years, Fox has officially mentored 15 young girls and teens and touched the lives "unofficially" of even more.
"Our camaraderie has been fabulous, and I've stayed in touch with all the girls I've mentored over the years," she said.
Mentors, Fox explained, come from all types of professions, and have the chance to interact with girls from 29 area communities in any number of ways.
Circle Program has many year-round events for girls and their mentors to gather for all types of activities. Not only do those activities allow them to have some fun together, they also get to know each other better along the way. Mentors also spend some small group or one-on-one time with the girls for individual outings that help build friendships with the Circle Program community.
"Driving places with a bunch of teens in your car is a great way to stay up on their music," Fox joked.
What she enjoys best about her work with Circle Program, though, is watching the girls realize their full potential as they develop into young women. The summer camp, she added, also gives them exposure to the outdoors and teaches them to handle a variety of challenges on their own; building their confidence in ways they might not experience anywhere else.
Just last winter several of the girls studied solar power and ultimately added solar lighting to four cabins at their summer camp.
"In working together, some really special relationships are formed, and it's wonderful to watch it all happen," said Fox.
Circle Program Director Kathy Kearns said the Teen Adventure Program is definitely Fox's legacy, and she will be hard to replace as its director. Through TAP, they have been able to interest girls in staying with the program after they outgrow Circle Camp. Besides camping trips and other adventures, they also learn Red Cross first aid, CPR, and other skills they can use in their everyday lives.
"We've seen the retention rate grow from 82- to 99-percent for the girls who graduate from Circle Camp and move on to TAP. Circle Program has grown a lot with Fox's support, that's for sure," said Kearns. "Her contributions are beyond putting a value on and we're just happy she is going to stay on as a mentor because she has a phenomenal rapport with the girls."
Circle Program currently has 80 mentors and an enrollment of approximately 93 girls. Anyone interested in joining their team as either a mentor or volunteer can find more information on the program by visiting www.circleprogram.org
"Mentoring is just a great way to stay connected to young women and make a real difference in their lives," Fox said.