Topeka man bridging the connection between students, mentors

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TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT)– A Topeka man wants to build a bridge between kids and adults in Topeka, bringing them together with a school lunch.

Thomas Henkensiefken and Warren Wilson sit together once a week for lunch at Robinson Middle School in Topeka, playing games, eating and talking about life.

The two friends may not have crossed paths if it wasn’t for the help of this man Chris Stewart.

Chris is the founder of The Bridge, a mentorship program in Topeka. Chris was inspired to start The Bridge after working with inner city kids in Memphis. Then once he and his wife moved to Topeka he wanted to continue his work.

“I said, ‘well, maybe we just need to send mentors into every school in the city. Every elementary school in the city.'”, Chris said. “And two of our board members started to nod, and said, ‘that’s it. That’s exactly what we need to do.'”

The Bridge took over Lunch Buddies, a program at Topeka Public Schools where mentors join a kid for lunch once a week.

“Kids their age need adults who are going to show up,” said Chris’ wife, Angie. “And so, I think that’s what really sets Chris on fire. Showing up and being another positive adult for a kid.”

Bringing Thomas and Warren together.

“He’s making a difference in the community,” Warren said. “He’s making a difference in the lives of young kids. And that difference carries over to the people who are serving as lunch buddies.”

Filling schools with more than 100 other mentors.

“Chris is incredibly energetic, and lively,” said Niki Maloney, a Lunch Buddy mentor. “He connects with the kids in a way that most adults can’t.”

“I don’t think I’m a hero,” Chris said. “But I want to be a hero maker.”

Chris believes mentoring isn’t a one way street. As both build a bridge together for a better community.

“It doesn’t just change the kid,” Chris said. “It changes the mentor as well.”

The Bridge starts with elementary school kids. If the kids want to stay with their lunch buddy past elementary school, they can. Some have even had the same buddy up to college.

To find volunteer at The Bridge, click here.

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