GBF Mentee, Sanela Bikic Receives Presidential Scholarship Nomination

Congratulations to Sanella Bikic, a graduating senior at Montpelier High School.  Sanela has been a mentee in Girls/Boyz First Mentoring since 2010. She is a Bosnian immigrant. Sanela has had the good fortune of having three mentors during this time, Amanda Payne, Alyssa Reed and her current mentor, Amy Cunningham.  Amy and Sanela began their mentoring relationship as a pair in Everybody Wins, a statewide reading mentoring program, and transferred into Girls/Boyz First in 2012.

“I am honored that all of my hard work has paid off”, said Sanela Bikic, who graduates from Montpelier High School this June.  This past January, Sanela was recognized, along with 30 other Vermont high school seniors in a ceremony at the Vermont Statehouse as a Presidential Scholar Nominee. The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, established in 1964, recognizes and honors some of our nation’s most distinguished graduating high school seniors. Sanela was nominated for this scholarship by her teachers at the Barre Tech Center, where she has participated in the medical professional program this year.

“My mentors helped me develop my communication skills, become more mature and learn how to go into the world ready for a job”, says Sanela.  “Through creative projects like sewing clothing for my American Girl Dolls, decorating my room, baking and various other art projects over the years, I developed a sense of myself as a creative person.  I figured out in high school that it is through my creativity that I learn best!”  Currently, when she is not in school, Sanela works at Rite Aid and the Gary Home.  She owns a car that she bought with her own money. Sanela’s short term goals include applying for and receiving her American citizenship and deciding on her post high school educational plans.  Sanela is exploring her long term goals to become an RN with a specialization in maternal child health. She is interested in possibly pursuing a career in public health.

Amy believes Sanela’s strengths lie in her innate wisdom (“she is an old soul”), her sense of compassion and fairness, her incredible organizational skills and her great sense of humor.  Amy hopes that Sanela finds a career where she can use her gifts to help others, that she continues to be creative, connected and happy, noticing life’s beauty along the way.

Vermont’s presidential scholarship nominees exemplify the strengths of Vermont’s education system, one of the best in the nation,” according to Vermont Secretary of Education, Dan French. “Our students have excelled in science, math, history and the arts, and a diverse range of CTE programs. I am very proud of their excellence and hard work and I wish them the best as they represent our state at the national level for this award.”

Girls/Boyz First is proud of Sanela and her successes and wish her all the best in her post high school plans.

GBF Mentoring celebrates our 18th year!

Mentor pairs and families gathered at the Vermont State House in May to celebrate each other and our program. Maple Jam, a Vermont a cappella group, provided us with musical entertainment and a delicious pot luck was shared by all.



Fun in the Snow

One of our mentees enjoying a day at Morse Farm with her mentor during a snow-filled winter. Mentors love to get their mentees outside and moving so that they learn to make healthy choices about exercise and being in nature.

GBF Senior, Melanie McLane, looks forward to her future.

Melanie McLane, a beautiful, poised 17-year-old, with long dark hair, a cherubic face and glasses, has a strong sense of purpose. For the past year, she has worked with Adult Basic Education in Barre to find an alternative educational program that will work for her life. And worked it has! This past year, Melanie has taken Universal on-line classes in marine biology, abnormal psychology, anatomy and physiology, anxiety therapy, English composition, short story writing, and horseback riding. In addition, she has taken a course in financial literacy from Capstone in Barre, a phlebotomy course from Community College of Vermont, a calligraphy class from the Art Studio in Barre and worked 10-20 hours a week for Meals on Wheels in Barre, helping prepare, serve, clean up and socialize with those in need in her community.

A year ago, floundering in high school, socially unhappy and at odds with her peers, and struggling with emotional and physical health issues, Melanie knew she needed to make some big changes or risk dropping out of high school. With the incredible help of her Girls/Boyz First Mentoring mentor, Marilu, (a consistent and encouraging presence in Melanie’s life since she was 12), Melanie found the support she needed to work with her school counselor, Emily Grahm at Spaulding High School. Emily encouraged Melanie to enroll in Adult Basic Education’s alternative degree program where Jacqueline Stewart has successfully helped her refocus her educational plans and goals. This May, Melanie will not only graduate high school on time but will be the first person in her family to go to college!

In the fall, Melanie is headed to Cassanovia College in New York State, with a nice financial aid package, where she plans on majoring in Equine Studies, and fulfilling her dream to channel her passion for horses into a meaningful career.

“Mentoring has meant so much to me,” says Marilu, Melanie’s mentor. “I came into Melanie’s life as a mentor with Girls/Boyz First Mentoring program in 2011 and have remained her mentor ever since. Mentoring for the past 6 years has allowed Marilu to clearly see Melanie’s strengths. Melanie knows her sphere: horses. Melanie has a winning personality, is demure, deferential to authority, and quick to accept guidance. She is hard-working, extremely caring, and her affinity for animals is extraordinary.”

Marilu is sensitive to the common thread of under-privilege, single parenting and academic underachievement that permeates the background and culture of some of the mentees in Girls/Boyz First Mentoring.

“Melanie has had so many challenges in life: family, health, teen and social issues, economics…In the past couple of years, I have watched Melanie come to terms with the fact that college graduates get better jobs and lead more comfortable lives. This has sparked a flame in her. I am so proud of Melanie. She has gotten into college!”

Marilu says she thinks about Melanie all week long and “all the things that I want to talk with her about on our Saturdays together.”

“Mentoring has made a huge difference in my life,” says Melanie.   “Marilu has given me advice and made me realize that in order to succeed in life you need an education and passion. Marilu helped me to figure out what to do with my life.”

Melanie’s future goals include graduating high school this June and graduating college. She would like to complete 1-2 internships while in college, perhaps in equine massage, and have a job in her field when she graduates.

“I am excited and look forward to riding in the arena, getting to have a college experience and be on my own and prove to myself that I can do it.”

Marilu says that she imagines that she will feel so adrift when Melanie heads off to college this fall. “I will probably take a breather from mentoring for a bit and then sign up again.”

Thank You GBF Mentors


On behalf of the kids, families and central Vermont community that we serve, I want to thank all our GBF mentors from the bottom of my heart for all the love, time, energy and positive coaching that you give to mentees. Whether your mentee has been matched with you for one month or 10 years, whether they can articulate it verbally and thank you or let you know how much they appreciate you, KNOW that they do!
Have a healthy and enjoyable holiday time. In these times, we need and appreciate the work you do as volunteer mentors more than ever.
Wendy Freundlich, Program Director GBF