Architect of mentor program won’t be idle in retirement
While Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership’s (RIMP) founder and CEO Arlene McNulty retired recently, she couldn’t stay away from her passion for the past 21 years.
After a weekend, she was back in the office in Apponaug to attend meetings and edit some grant applications.
But in a recent interview she confessed to slowing down and even relaxing.
The Mentoring Partnership started as the Chamber Education Foundation and a partnership with MetLife and some Warwick public schools. What was once a program with only 10 mentors and 10 students has grown to reach more than 5,000 children and 60 partnering programs statewide with 300 mentors in Warwick.
As it grew, it became McNulty’s life and passion.
In addition to establishing and running its own mentoring programs, the partnership offers training and workshops for mentoring agencies that are just starting.
“I was instrumental with the vision, as it was something that was needed in the state,” said McNulty.
Her mentor, Jim McCormick of South Kingstown, founder of the Chamber Education Foundation, helped her materialize her passion, she said.
McCormick hired McNulty as the mentoring director after deciding CEF wanted to expand and offer mentoring to students. McNulty then took several trips to Norwalk, Conn., to observe a one-on-one mentoring program, one of the first in the nation, said McCormick. Once he had retired, he said mentoring programs transitioned from a school business partnership to more of a mentoring organization.
“Arlene was very qualified, she had developed the mentoring program; I let her run with it, and after a while she didn’t need anymore guidance because it was a natural fit,” said McCormick.
Now retired, McCormick said, “RIMP is fantastic, and Arlene and the staff have done a fabulous job. I think it’s a gem for the state of Rhode Island.”
The kids have been McNulty’s primary motivation. She said one of her favorite things is to see the glowing faces of kids in the beginning of the school year when they see their mentors.
McNulty believes in mentoring because of its results. She said mentoring has helped kids come out of their shell.
And there’s more to it than antidotal information.
The graduation rate of students with mentors is 96 percent as compared to a state average of 77 percent, said McNulty.
She said mentoring inspires students to pursue their education, recalling a mentee who moved on to become the valedictorian at the University of Connecticut and now, completing the circle, is a mentor in the program.
McNulty isn’t leaving the program high and dry. She prepared for her successor, and about 18 months ago the board tapped Jo-Ann Schofield as Chief Operating Officer.
“Jo-Ann is more than ready,” said McNulty. “New blood is needed.”
McNulty said new ideas are necessary for the program’s growth.
Leaving RIMP didn’t come easily, although she realized it was time to find a life balance.
Building the program has taken long hours and hard work.
“It was difficult earlier,” said McNulty, describing when she first started. “You would want to make it to events in the evening, find recruitment; it required time.”
It was difficult to find aid some years, pay people and keep things running, said McNulty.
“I had a few sleepless nights, but you get used to it,” she said with a laugh.
Whenever things were difficult, McNulty said that the staff was always there for her like family.
Two members of the board also left RIMP this year. Peter Koch, past treasurer, retired in June after working with McNulty for 23 years. He said she was an administrator who believed in the function of mentoring.
“She always worked with a smile and had respect for everyone,” said Koch. “She made everyone feel important.”
Koch spoke about the growth of Warwick’s mentoring over the past 20 years and how it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for McNulty.
He said if finances were ever tough or if there were years with no aid, she would never complain.
“She had a love for the operation,” said Koch. “I have the utmost respect for her as an individual.”
Robert Weygand, a past board member of RIMP, also left the board this past spring.
“It’ll be hard to fill her shoes,” he said.
Weygand said McNulty worked day and night, weekdays and weekends.
He is confidant Schofield will keep the organization running as smoothly as it always has been with the foundation McNulty has placed.
“I’m sad she’s gone, but she deserves to retire,” said Weygand.
McNulty’s dedication, work with different communities and thoughtfulness makes her “contagious,” Weygand said.
When asked if she will miss working, she hesitated and said, “For the summer it’ll be OK.” With family visiting from Kentucky and keeping busy with her grandkids, McNulty doesn’t see boredom any time soon. Come September she said that might change.
This isn’t the total end for McNulty. She plans on continuing as a volunteer and said she will openly offer her help whenever it’s needed. She will still be on the committee for the 9th annual fundraiser Dancing With the Stars of Mentoring, which she referred to as “my baby.” The event featuring professionals from Dancin’ Feelin’ and community celebrities is a major fundraiser for RIMP.
She said she will miss the wonderful long-term staff and wanted to note the outstanding partnership RIMP has had with the Warwick schools. She thanked Robert Bushell, director of elementary education, and Superintendent Richard D’Agostino for their support for the program and the rest of the teachers and staff.
McNulty’s legacy lives on with Arlene’s Angels, a foundation of monthly donors designed to keep mentoring sustainable.
“A child is benefiting by the donations,” said McNulty.
Plaques will be put on a wall for those who become one of Arlene’s Angels.