Skip to content

Gilbert Students, Community Give Back Through Mentoring Programs

We celebrate all of our volunteers during National Mentoring Month

Pastor Christian Johnson, who watches over the congregation at Gilbert Lutheran Church, had a smile on his face as he sat and waited for intermediate student and fourth grader Parker Main Tuesday afternoon. For one, Pastor Johnson enjoys a good school lunch and on the menu today is a corn dog. Secondly, and most importantly, he gets the chance to spend an hour with Main, who he’s mentored for nearly four years.

Soon enough Parker shows up, and he and Pastor Johnson take their lunches to the east gym where they sit with their backs to the bleachers and eat while they talk. They might shoot some hoops, or play another game afterward, whatever Parker wants.

Pastor Johnson and Parker get together weekly and it’s a visit they both look forward to.

“Parker is an amazing kid,” Pastor Johnson says. “I love his energy, his creativity, and his spirit just lifts me up. And I love to be in the school too. To see the teachers, the staff, the kids; it just lifts you up.”

Pastor Johnson is one of 30 individuals – students and community members alike – who take part in the YSS School-Based Mentoring program, according to Gilbert Mentor Facilitator Erin Wimmer. Now in its 22nd year, the program is so popular, in fact, that there are four boys on the waiting list, biding their time until a mentor can be located. 

The YSS School-Based mentoring program is for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and there are a number of Gilbert High School students that serve as mentors alongside community members. Wimmer says sophomores, juniors and seniors can apply to become mentors and it’s a great way to give back to younger students.

“I do my best to recruit people who are interested in spending time once a week with younger kids in the school,” Wimmer says. “It’s being there for them, being a positive role model in their lives, and it enriches your own life too.”

January is National Mentoring Month and today – Thursday, Jan. 26 – is Thank Your Mentor Day. This month serves as a chance to raise awareness for how one conversation, one experience, and one mentor can change a young person’s life, according to the website

Wimmer has witnessed many beautiful connections over the years, and nearly 50 percent of the mentors stay with their students for at least two years. Some, as in Pastor Johnon’s case, maintain that connection for even longer.

“I’ve been here for eight years and one of the most impactful stories came in my first year,” Wimmer said. “At the end of every year, we ask the mentees what having a mentor means to them. Usually answers are: it means I can play games with somebody, or it means I have somebody to talk to, or it means I can skip outside recess when it’s cold outside. But my first year, a student responded to that question with: it makes me feel less invisible. I will never forget that.”

The YSS School-Based Mentoring program is just one of several ways that our students are afforded the opportunity to connect and make a difference in the lives of their younger peers.

At the high school this past fall, Assistant Principal John Ronca spearheaded a new program called Tiger Den, in which seniors can mentor freshmen in the building. Being new to the high school can be scary and intimidating for ninth graders, and the Tiger Den’s mission is to help alleviate that strain.

“Freshmen always seem a little bit timid, so this was an opportunity to create a program where seniors can sign up and help,” Ronca says.

Sixty seniors committed to the program, and while it’s voluntary for freshmen, Ronca says every member of the class signed up to take part. Each senior was assigned two or three freshmen to mentor, and the group gets together once a month during Success Center to talk and play games. Ronca envisions a growing program in the coming years..

“The goal was to have freshmen get to know at least one senior they could count on, whether they had questions about classes, behavior, culture … they could talk to a senior about those things.

“The program is simply helping freshmen assimilate into the culture of the high school with the seniors, and the program has been really good. I think the seniors and freshmen are really enjoying their time, and any time you can get older students to help mold the younger mind, that’s a plus.”

Students at the high school have one additional way to help mold the minds of the next generation and that’s as a Tiger Helper at the intermediate building. During the first semester, more than a dozen students took part and logged more than 160 hours in classrooms with younger students.

Any high school student with a study hall can sign up to be a Tiger Helper and each individual stays in the same classroom throughout the semester. It gives the students a chance to bond with both the students and staff and build relationships that may last long after the semester ends.

Whether it’s through the YSS School-Based Mentoring program, the Tiger Den program, or the Tiger Helper program, our students are reaping the benefits. For the mentors, these programs teach dedication and responsibility, and the chance to give back can heighten one’s own self-esteem. And for the mentees, it’s one more friend with a shoulder to lean on, or someone to smile and laugh with.

Any way you look at it, it’s win-win.

Girls Wrestling Team Hosts Panorama Tuesday

Tigers take state aspirations into Friday’s regional tournament

The inaugural season of sanctioned girls’ wrestling is drawing toward its conclusion, but not before teams across the state face their biggest and toughest tests of the season.

Regionals from Sioux City to Cedar Rapids and places in between are set for Friday, with the state tournament scheduled to take place Thursday and Friday, Feb. 2 and 3, at Xtream Arena in Coralville.

The top four finishers at each weight from regionals will advance to state. Gilbert’s full team will take part in Region 4 inside Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Friday. Wrestling will get started at 11 a.m.

“Friday, yeah, it’s a big deal,” Gilbert head coach Scott Auderer said. “Our regional is tough, but they’re all going to be tough. Most of the weights, I’d say they’re pretty good one through four.”

Like Auderer said, Friday is important. But his grapplers haven’t turned their complete focus to that, not yet anyway. They’re currently focused on Tuesday night and a chance to wrestle in front of their home crowd for the first and only time this winter.

Gilbert will host Panorama at 6 p.m. Tuesday evening in the first sanctioned girls’ dual the school has ever hosted. It wasn’t on the Tigers original schedule, but when a December home meet was canceled, Auderer looked for another team willing to make the trek to compete. Panorama was up to the challenge, and it has Auderer and his pupils excited.

“Tuesday’s meet is a big deal for our program,” Auderer said. “It would be great to get that gym full for those girls and it’s something that helps to build the program.

“The girls are excited and they want to be recognized as a legitimate sport. They want people to see the hard work they’ve put in and get a chance to showcase themselves.”

Students will get into the dual free of charge, and the team would love if everyone from the community ventured to the high school to be part of the first-ever sanctioned dual at Gilbert. Most, if not all, of the 14 weights will be contested.

Auderer was still putting the final touches on his lineup for the dual and regionals Monday morning. Ten of the 14 weights have already been penciled in, but there are several challenge matches set for Monday afternoon that will decide the final lineup.

Friday’s regional will be anything but easy. Joining Gilbert in the Region 4 field will be Ames, Baxter, Boone, Cardinal, Carlisle, Chariton, Colfax-Mingo, Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont, Earlham, Fairfield, Grinnell, Johnston, Martensdale St. Marys, Nevada, Ogden, Panorama, Pella, Perry, Raccoon River-Northwest, Saydel, South Tama County, Southeast Polk, Urbandale, and West Des Moines Valley. It’s a blend of small and large schools with Gilbert somewhere in the middle in the one-class setup.

Gilbert’s lineup will look something like this for regionals:

•100 — Jaedyn Henry
•105 — Jaydan Jeppesen
•110 — Alicia Smith
•115 — Brooklynn Nees
•120 — Undecided
•125 — Undecided
•130 — Hadley Boshart
•135 — Brooke Hamers
•140 — Annika Yoder-Stoulil
•145 — Alex Harswick
•155 — Undecided
•170 — Anna Steenhoek
•190 — Open
•235 — Macy Underwood

Harswick, a senior 145-pounder, has put together a stellar campaign and she’s hopeful it will end in Coralville early next month. Harswick takes a 16-match winning streak and 22-3 overall record with 19 pins into Tuesday’s dual. She fell at the hands of second-ranked 140-pounder and 2022 state runner-up Sarah Lewis of Centerville early in the season, and her two other setbacks have both been avenged.

Auderer says Harswick’s lanky frame, strength and athleticism are all keys to her success. However, her determination is what truly sets her apart.

“The big key for her is her mental toughness and her discipline,” Auderer said. “She’s smart, she understands the diet, she understands the whole thing. It’s a priority for her and she has legitimate goals.”

Boshart, also a senior who competes at 130, is another Tiger with state aspirations, as she boasts a 19-7 record with 18 pins. She competed at state a season ago and understands the pressure the spotlight can bring.

“She’s improved a lot and she knows what she’s doing,” Auderer said of Boshart. “As long as she’s got the confidence in herself, she’ll be fine.”

Brooke Hamers, a junior 135-pounder, has dealt with injuries this season, but she’s back in the lineup and ready to take her crack at state as well. Hamers is 14-8 on the season.

“I think she has a shot on Friday, and I think a couple others have a shot (to reach state) as well,” Auderer said.

Of the 21 girls on the Gilbert roster, nine — Nees, Boshart, Hamers, Harswick, Steenhoek, Aubrey Dunn, Emma Britcher, Cecelia Bowers, and Fern Neubauer — have won at least 10 matches.

Your chance to see the team in action, right here at home, happens Tuesday evening. We hope to see you there!

Gilbert Competition Cheer Squad Ready To Take On Nationals

Tigers to compete in Dallas on Saturday and Sunday

Jordan Sytsma was noticeably nervous as she stood to the side and watched her Gilbert competition cheer squad prepare to perform in front of friends, family, and the entire community during halftime of the boys’ basketball game last Friday night.

This was the squad’s last chance for a full out in front of a crowd before it departs on Thursday for the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) High School Nationals and Sytsma, the Tigers’ head coach, wanted perfection.

No coach ever gets perfection but, hey, they can dream, right?

“Friday was stressful,” Sytsma said. “To put them out in front of the entire community, that’s a pressure cooker. But I was very happy. I’ll always nit-pick things because you’re always striving to be better, but it went really well.”

With a little extra fine-tuning this week, the comp cheer squad hopes it will perform even better this weekend when it steps onto the big stage inside the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, Texas, for nationals. Competing in the Small Varsity Game Day Division, the Tigers will showcase their routine during the semifinals on Saturday, and again during the finals on Sunday. The semifinal performance will account for 25 percent of their overall team score, while Sunday’s finals will make up the remaining 75 percent.

Gilbert’s three-minute routine is comprised of a band chant, situational response, and the school fight song. The routine itself was choreographed way back in August, although it had to be put on the back burner somewhat until following the state competition in November.

It’s not an easy routine. It’s not a safe routine. And that’s precisely what the squad’s 14 members — Carly Dolan, Clair Lewis, Grace Lornston, Julia Lewis, Anella Troncoso, Lulu Smith, Liz Fierce, Addie Pink, Payton Crawford, Ella Overman, Olivia Schuelka, Riley Lempiainen, Ava Price, and Blair Hibbing — wanted.

“We’re always pushing ourselves and taking risks, and the kids want that,” Sytsma said. “We’re not going to put out a safe routine. These girls want to be challenged, they want to take risks. We’re going to swing for the fences.”

Gilbert, which won back-to-back Class 3A state cheerleading titles prior to this season’s state runner-up finish, is one of only four schools in Iowa that will compete at nationals. Waukee, Waukee Northwest, and Mason City will join the Tigers in Dallas.

This year’s NCA High School Nationals will be the largest field in the 75-year history of the event. While that may seem daunting, it only adds to the excitement for Gilbert’s cheerleaders and coach. They’ve been together since June, working tirelessly to be ready for those six minutes on mat this weekend.

“The NCA’s tag line is the work is worth it, and I fully believe that,” Sytsma said. “It’s a ton of work, but the goal is to go down and do well. Just the experience of being able to compete on the national level is something I take a lot of pride in, as do the kids. They’re the first group from Gilbert to ever do that.

“This is the big leagues; you’re competing against the best of the best in the nation. Our kids want to go down and they want to win, which we are capable of doing.”

We wish Coach Sytsma and the girls nothing but the very best of luck this weekend. They’ve put in the time. They’ve put in the work. They’re ready. And we know they will represent our school incredibly well.

Holiday Giving Program Exemplifies Gilbert’s Generosity, Community Pride

Thank You Families, Students, and Mrs. Woodin!

Sam McDaniel-Rold knows how lucky she is, even as she sits slumped in a chair inside the Gilbert High School conference room Tuesday morning. The senior basketball player is only three days removed from suffering an injury during a game at Mason City on Saturday and yet she’s smiling.

Teammate and classmate Carolyn Koenig has a grin on her face too as she sits to the left of Sam. Both girls enjoy the holiday season, but it’s as much about giving back as it is receiving. Maybe even more.

’Tis the season here at Gilbert.

Sam and Carolyn are part of a girls’ basketball senior class — alongside Ava Henningsen, Julianne Lundvall, Grace Barragy, Abigail Dies, Raney Kruse, Sydney Lynch, Johnna Rotto, Ava Johnson, and Addie Pink — that is leading the team’s mission to give back to families in need this holiday season.

“We’re all very fortunate and we know that,” Sam said. “We want to do something for those that are not as fortunate, especially during this time. It’s good for us to help out our community and do our part.”

Carolyn echoes those sentiments.

“I think it’s really important because it gives us a really good way to engage with our community,” she said. “It’s a good team-builder too. I don’t know the freshmen very well because they practice at a different time than we do, so it’s good to get to know them while also doing a good thing to benefit the community.”

In conjunction with Gilbert CSD’s Holiday Giving Program, which is shepherded by Student and Family Advocate Mel Woodin, the girls’ basketball team put together 33 snack bags for 31 families in need across the district. The team raised part of the funds for the project from the Achieve Challenge Scrimmage against Cedar Rapids Kennedy late last month, and the rest comes from donations by the players and their families.

The 34 players and managers on the roster split into 11 groups and went shopping Tuesday evening. They loaded up on all of their favorite snacks — both nutritious and not so much — to give to the families for over the Christmas break. Goldfish crackers, popcorn and chocolates were among the things Sam and Carolyn were sure to fill their bags with when they discussed the shopping excursion.

And who doesn’t like to shop? But, truthfully, the excitement from both girls came from the idea that they get to help. It’s what had the entire team excited about the adventure.

“It’s really empowering to go out with your teammates and to know you are helping to make a family’s Christmas season better,” Sam said. “It helps you reflect on your own life and what you have, and it brings us all together as a team.”

The Holiday Giving Program is more than a decade old at Gilbert, and it never fails to bring tears to the eyes of Woodin, who works tirelessly to make sure families in need have a memorable Christmas. This year there are 83 children from the 31 families who will benefit from the program.

“It helps to take the weight off of those parents and that’s everything,” Woodin said. “And they are so grateful. The families are grateful and the people who are donating are so grateful too that they can give back.

“I’ve been crying all day. I’m a hot mess, but that’s just me. I just feel so grateful for so many reasons. One, that we live in a community that is so giving and so caring. But, also, how cool is it that this is my job to be able to organize this? That’s awesome.”

The program began many years ago with the Boy Scouts, an organization that continues to take part to this day by sponsoring multiple families.

In October, Woodin sent out an email district wide to families asking if they would like to help with the program this year. Families had the option to sponsor an entire family or an individual child, or they could give gift-wrapping supplies or gift cards. And it’s all anonymous. The helping families don’t know who they’re sponsoring, and the families in need don’t know the identity of those helping.

Woodin says they ask the families that need support four things with regards to their children — what is a need, what is a want, what is their favorite color, and what is their favorite candy? From there, the helping families take over.

A conservative estimate puts the value of all of the goods purchased at $15,000, and that includes more than 80 gift cards from places like Fareway, Walmart and Target, among others. In addition to the toys, games, clothes and other items, each family will also receive a gift card.

Woodin is in charge of organizing the deliveries. She will also be present when each family picks up the items to take home and wrap for their children. It’s not easy work, but there’s nothing that’s more fulfilling.

“It’s just so great,” she said.

Gilbert Superintendent Dr. Christine Trujillo has watched as items were delivered to the school on a daily basis over the past few weeks, and she marvels at the generosity and sense of community that wafts over the schools’ hallways.

“The Gilbert School District is such an incredible place where we all take care of each other,” Dr. Trujillo said. “One of the gifts I see over and over is how this community supports our school district. It’s wonderful to see how our community gives back to our families, but also how our families help contribute to the work that we do here.”

If you are a family that may need extra support in the future, or if you are a family that would like to help support others in the future, Woodin says you can reach out to her at any time. You can contact her at

Thank you, Gilbert community. You continue to lift our students, staff and families up each and every day with your support and generosity. Happy Holidays to all of you!


1 2 3 4 8