Danbury mentoring program fosters 10-year relationship

Mentor guides Rodriguez through to graduation

Shannon Ahearn, Correspondent

When senior Luis Rodriguez was just 7 years old, his mother one day left the home and never came back.

Left with his father to solely raise him and his brother, Rodriguez needed additional support and guidance; he needed to feel that someone else cared.

“The day after my mom left, my dad picked me up from [Great Plain Elementary School] and my principal saw that he was upset,” Rodriguez explains. “They spoke of what happened and the principal said let’s get him a mentor to help out, and my dad agreed.”

Enter Ed Dayton, a lanky, friendly businessman who works at Branson Ultrasonics Corp., and a volunteer mentor through the Danbury School and Business Collaborative.

“I was 7 [when we first met] so I don’t remember much, but I do remember he was beyond tall,” Rodriguez says with a laugh.

They have been mentor-mentee ever since. Both would agree it goes beyond that now and  that they consider themselves close friends.

“Ed is my friend now; he’s a cool guy and I trust him with everything,” Rodriguez says. “He’s always been there for me and I know I can go talk to him no matter what. He encourages me to do better.”

The two try to meet once a week, usually in the Library Media Center. On this day, they agreed to use their weekly time to discuss their long and successful relationship.

“When it first happened, I cried like crazy because she had left a letter saying she no longer loved us,” Rodriguez recalls. “But at the same time, I really didn’t understand it and I didn’t talk about it, so we would just do mostly kid stuff together.”

They recall reading Diary of a Wimpy Kids books, playing basketball, and as Rodriguez aged, talking about relationships and his plans for his future after high school.

Ed is my friend now; he’s a cool guy and I trust him with everything.”

— Luis Rodriguez

By the time he was in the 8th grade at Broadview Middle School, however, Rodriguez began opening up about his feelings. “My dad was uncomfortable talking about, so I would discuss it with Ed; he was someone I could lean on.”

The need for mentors such as Dayton is evident in the statistics. For the past 50 years, the percentage of children living in single-parent homes has exponentially increased. Research by Education Next suggests that students from single-parent homes, on average, are less likely to earn their bachelor’s degree.

Data collected by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics illustrates that 24 year olds raised in a single parent home had received two-thirds less schooling compared to students raised in a two-parent home.

Dayton, 63, and the DSBAC mentoring program work to change this narrative by helping students who, as he says, “are having a tough time socially, academically, or maybe emotionally by pairing at-risk students with business professionals to be mentors and friends.”

He signed up to be a mentor a decade ago with some encouragement from his boss.

“It was always in the back of mind to give back to the community but I would put it off,” he explains. “Then a man I worked for at the time said, ‘Ed, I travel a lot more than you and it works out.’ So I started mentoring, got paired up with Luis, and it’s been 10 years.”

However, Dayton shares that Rodriguez has, in fact, taught him as well.

“Luis has shown me courage; he started out disadvantaged and kept on working and working and soon I’ll see him graduate,” Dayton said with pride. “That’s what he’s given me.”