Frank Wallace, a retired educator and longtime mentor in York schools, donated $100,000 to the Childscapes York Mentoring Fund, and pledged to bequeath the rest of his estate when he dies. Credit: Rich Beauchesne | The York Weekly

YORK, Maine — Frank Wallace remembers the children he’s mentored through the York schools for the last 18 years — and they remember him. He’s grandpa to their kids. He meets them for lunch. He’s been to Thanksgiving dinners, and family gatherings, and seen troubled kids grow into productive adults.

“I have my kids forever,” he said.

The retired educator now wants to ensure that the schools’ mentor program outlives him, and provides meaningful help to children today and yet to come. To make that a reality, Wallace just recently has donated $100,000 to establish the Childscapes York Mentoring Fund, and will bequeath the remainder of his estate to the fund when he passes on.

“I’ve been taking care of kids my whole life. I’ve been mentoring them in one way or another since I started high school,” he said. “I have no family. I’m single and I’ve always been single. So I’m leaving my money to those who I consider my family — all those children who I can help.”

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When Wallace approached York School Department Volunteer Coordinator Melanie Ladd, who spearheads the mentorship program, she said she was stunned. “Frank said he was going to see me about something serious. But when he sat down and told me, I was really in shock. He said this is what meant the most to him, and I honor that and will continue to honor that.”

The York mentoring program currently has 102 students enrolled in grades kindergarten to 12. Students are selected by school guidance counselors for any number of reasons, said Ladd. Some have anxiety around home life. Sometimes the child is having difficulty adjusting to a move. There is no predetermined eligibility, said Ladd, just a child in need of an adult who isn’t a parent.

“In the last few years, we’ve seen an increase of children who are feeling more anxious — not only about the family but about what’s happening in the world. Knowing a caring adult will meet with them once a week, it really makes a change in their lives.”

Currently, there are 70 mentors, many of whom are retired but who span from ages 19-85. “We are even starting to see students who had a mentor and now they’re becoming mentors themselves,” Ladd said. She added that the program can use more mentors, particularly men.

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She said she works to find the right fit between mentor and mentee. So Wallace, for instance, is a writer and author, and will often be paired with a child who is interested in writing or the arts. Mentors come to the school one day a week for lunch and recess.

The mentor program does hold a fundraiser once a year, and the modest amount raised will go to camperships for children during the summer. But the Childscapes York Mentor Fund will really be a game-changer for the children throughout the year, Ladd said.

Wallace said he envisions the fund as helping each child in the program realize his or her potential. Some come from financially stable homes, with parents who can provide opportunities for them; many do not. Some are developmentally challenged, some are not. He wants his money to be used to help the child find the best path forward.

“That’s the bottom line for me. A mentor spends time with a child and often discovers his or her interests. Sometimes a child can’t take that interest anywhere. Say a little girl loves horses, but her parents can’t afford lessons. We can help with that. Or a child loves music but the family can’t afford the instrument, let alone lessons. That’s the kind of thing I want this fund to be used for.

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“I want someone to say, ’You know, this all started when I was back in middle school in York. That’s how I became a doctor, or a mechanic. We want to help the parent help the child.”

Wallace was able to establish the fund after he sold his home in Cape Neddick, and said it’s already in his will that the remainder of his estate will go into the fund. He said he feels like he has made the best decision he possibly can for the children of York.

“This has been my life for the past 18 years. My family has been these children, because I had none of my own,” he said. “The benefit of what I have I want to give to them. They’re my inheritance.”

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