Fort Wayne, Ind. (WANE) – “I wanted to drop out. Staying in school wasn’t for me. I was just giving up.” But Tekamri Bryant didn’t give up. She formed a special relationship at South Side High School with Check and Connect mentor Cathy McFadden.

“When I met Tekamri she was a sophomore,” said McFadden. “She wasn’t very serious about anything, as a sophomore sometimes you aren’t. Last year at this time things were going on in her life and the conversation was really serious with her telling me I”m going to drop out. I’m done.”

“She had that talk with me one on one and she encouraged me to do better and pushed me to do more,” recalls Bryant.

McFadden is one of 11 trained mentors in the Allen County Juvenile Center’s Check and Connect program. It matches mentors with at-risk students at middle and high schools in the Fort Wayne Community and East Allen County School districts in an effort to stamp out truancy and help students graduate. It’s run through the Allen Superior Court.

“People ask why isn’t this a school issue?” said Allen Superior Court Judge Andrea Trevino. “Well it’s a court issue and it’s a community issue because this decreases the amount of truancies we see. So it reduces the contact that these students are going to have with the criminal justice system. By reducing the contact they have and focusing on the things Check and Connect focuses on like decreasing absences, behavioral referrals and increasing school engagement and the likelihood to graduate, we are increasing the chances that they do graduate.”

Check and Connect began in 2014. Since then more than 250 students have gone through the program. “Check and Connect is really all about building relationships, strong relationships,” said McFadden. “I have the privilege of working at South Side High School. I meet my students in large group settings or smaller groups. I have 25 and we work on attendance, academics and behaviors.”

“We’ve had mentors who probably spend as much time on the phone with parents as they do with the kids because parents need extra help,” said Jill Carboni, Director of Education for the Allen County Juvenile Center. “When it comes to extra help we’re talking about getting food at the home, getting furniture in the home, getting help with learning how to take care of a home.”

“They connect with their families so there is a trifecta of a connection that goes on between the kids, the school and the families all facilitated by our mentors. It’s really a special relationship,” said Judge Trevino.

A $217,333 grant from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute has helped Check and Connect grow to serve eight Fort Wayne Community middle and high schools and four middle and high schools in East Allen County.

“It helped me because it helped me find a better person to find who I am and it helped me graduate actually,” said Bryant. “I’m going to start college at Ivy Tech online for early childhood education because I love children.”

“She’s going to be amazing at that,” said McFadden. “She’s going to be amazing at being an early childhood mentor.”

“We formed a bond,” said Bryant. “It’s a bond that you actually grow accustomed to and love.” McFadden replied, “She’s become almost part of my family.”

Check and Connect would like to expand into more schools. You can find out more about the program by clicking here.