La Grange area mentor gets crafty, shares fun

Within minutes, Emily Feller, 20, and Tatiana Thomas, 10, created a colorful peak into their personalities on paper.

Each had traced her handprint and selected five descriptive attributes, one for each finger. Then, the sky was the limit with a rainbow of rings, nail polish and whimsical butterflies and flowers adorning each hand. Pink and purple fireworks exploded just outside the fingertips.

The two arts-and-crafts enthusiasts met through a mentoring program offered by The LeaderShop, a youth development program based in La Grange. Formerly known as CEP Youth Leadership, the organization serves children and teens from the western suburbs, including La Grange, Western Springs, LaGrange Park, Burr Ridge and Indian Head Park.

Tatiana, a fifth-grader at Ideal School in Countryside, described herself as “happy, actor, craft, fun and sugar rush.”

“I like candy,” she admitted and smiled. “Milky Ways are my favorite. I also like acting in plays at school.”

Feller, a 2011 graduate of Lyons Township High School from LaGrange Park, listed her qualities as “charismatic, crafty, determined, adventurous and loyal.”

A recent graduate of the Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy in Chicago, Feller is the media director of Hinsdale United Methodist Church and does freelance video work for the Onion News Network.

“After I graduated in June, I needed a sense of purpose,” she said. “I wanted to get more involved in community programs. I was browsing the Internet, and The LeaderShop popped up. I thought it would be a great opportunity.”

Tatiana and Feller agreed to be matched in November after several group meetings for a range of participants to get to know one another. Feller also met and got the nod from Tatiana’s family.

The pair is one of 24 sets of mentors and students arranged by The LeaderShop with three more matches being finalized, said Jessica Kurpiel, who coordinates the program. There is a waiting list of 11 kids or teens who would like a mentor.

“We’re like a Big Brother/Big Sister program, except that the matches aren’t necessarily just two males or two females,” Kurpiel said. “The mentor serves as a positive role model and someone else in the young person’s support system.”

The program requires volunteers be at least 21 years old, have a driver’s license, undergo a background check and have a good driving record and insurance. Volunteers also must commit to meeting four hours a month for a year.

“After I met Emily, I really wanted her in the program and knew we had to make an exception on the age,” Kurpiel said.

For both students, ages 5 through 12, and adults, interested applicants fill out a questionnaire listing preferences and interests, and staff members try to find good matches, she said.

In addition to a keen eye for crafts, Tatiana and Feller have discovered several other similarities. Both are the middle child in their families, sandwiched between an older and a younger brother, and both love to dance.

Tatiana likes to turn on the radio and make up dances; Feller took years of Scottish Highland dancing and would like to complete the training she started to become an instructor.

The mentors and their matches, as well as students on the waiting list will be recognized at an appreciation dinner Jan. 31.

For more information, visit www.theleadershop.org, or contact Kurpiel at jessicak@theleadershop.org, or (708) 579-5898.

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