For the Insider
As an 8-year-old, Concord native Nate Giffard loved making paper airplanes. In fact when he was matched with a Friends Youth Mentoring Program mentor, he taught his mentor to make paper airplanes and they flew them from the balcony of the St. Paul’s School library. It was his mentor’s first paper airplane experience, but in turn his mentor put Giffard on new pathways that would change his life.
“(I remember) pretty much everything. Everything about that felt important.” Giffard said.
His mentor, Nicky Buxton, worked with him to research and learn all about paper airplanes on the computer. Buxton also played guitar and showed him chords in a year when Giffard started playing the viola as a student in the Concord School District. Giffard would bring his viola up to campus and the two would play their instruments together in the dorm.
“I looked up to him and wanted to be just like him. He was so smart and nice. He was great!” Giffard said. “To be more like him, I thought about going to St. Paul’s when I was older.”
It was his mentor who showed him the way.
“Nicky told me what it was I needed to do and I set out to accomplish it,” he said.
Indeed, Giffard demonstrated he had the chops and earned his way into St. Paul’s.
“I was so excited and proud. I had worked hard and achieved it. It was also a little scary, as it was to be new territory as a student there,” he said.
Giffard learned there were many positive things about the school and has enjoyed his secondary school experience, especially the musical opportunities.
“I have now been playing viola since third grade. Playing music is something I need to do,” he said.
Giffard loves playing, but is truly connected to music. It is an extension of who he is.
“Even when I just need to think or clear my head, I go to a music room and practice scales,” Giffard said. “One of the special things about being a St. Paul’s School student is being able to study one’s music; including through private lessons. That has really elevated my playing and I have enjoyed being in the school’s orchestra very much.”
Giffard also had the opportunity, through a highly selective, competitive process, to become a volunteer mentor in the Friends Youth Mentoring Program himself. In a full-circle moment, he earned the chance to mentor a 9-year-old boy.
“I had always told myself I wanted to do it. It was important to me and I wanted to give that experience to another,” he said. “This program gives kids a friend, in the sense that a mentor is there just for them.”
From first-hand experience as both a mentee and now a mentor, Giffard understands what it can mean to a child.
“Kids gain self-confidence. I wanted my mentee to be able to dream, express ideas and not be discouraged,” he said.
Giffard’s mentee was a youngster at a turning point in his life and with his help, he has stayed plugged in to positive pursuits.
True to his moral compass and good character, Giffard has volunteered in a number of additional undertakings. He has volunteered as a breakfast cook at the McKenna House, with Bridges to Communities sustainable community development projects for impoverished people in Nicaragua, with Habitat for Humanity building houses in Georgia, been a helping hand at the Children’s Learning Center at St. Paul’s School, played viola at the Birches Senior Living Community facility, served as a 15-year-old on a Granite United Way panel charged with funding decisions for all of Merrimack County, and made paper cranes to cheer up patients at Concord Hospital. He continues to be a creative paper folder!
Giffard is now on the eve of graduation from St. Paul’s School and to his credit, has earned his way into Dartmouth College.
“It was one of the best days of my life,” Giffard said of his acceptance. He will be on a pre-med track at Dartmouth supporting his aspirations to be a doctor in the psychiatry field. Giffard has thought about wanting to be a doctor since he was 13 years old.
April is a month to celebrate volunteers with National Volunteer Week, which is held April 23-29.
The next youth mentoring orientation is scheduled for May 11 from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Call 228-0108 to register.
Terri Smith is the Youth Mentoring Program Director. The Friends Youth Mentoring Program is in its 42nd year providing mentoring for children in Merrimack County who are in need of support.