CHICAGO (CBS) — It is a bond measured in years and inches. He was once a baby-faced third grader, who now towers over his friend and mentor.
For a decade Jin Nam was Kamren Sykes’ tutor. For 10 years, both chose to be with each other, affirmed by a single question every year.
“‘Hey, are you going to be here next year? Yeah, me too. I’m coming back if you’re coming back.’ And that sort of became our secret handshake once a year at the end of the tutoring seasons,” Nam said.
At Chicago Lights, a program at Fourth Presbyterian Church on the Magnificent Mile, 400 students in first grade through high school are teamed with volunteer tutors, who offer more than help with school work.
“I really think it’s about human connection,” said Fernie Tiflis, of Chicago Lights. “A lot of us are always in our phones and gadgets and all of that, and we forget that the best way to connect with somebody is one to one, in person.”
To keep that partnership going for a decade, it took commitment from Nam, Kamren and his parents.
He knew early on what he wanted.
“He wrote this little note saying, ‘I really love you as my tutor. I hope we make it to 12th grade.’ Here we are,” Nam said.
Last week, Kamren graduated from high school, and he’s going on to college. Their tutoring sessions have ended.
On the last day, he told all the students in the Chicago Lights program what his tutor has meant to him over these 10 years.
“I wanted to tell everybody how thankful I was for her and how important she is in my life to this day,” Kamren said. “We built a bond and a relationship that I would never want to break.”
“I’d say throughout our 10 years, I would say he’s definitely shown his respect for just my commitment to him. He sees it in ways that I show up every week,” Nam said.
Kamren plans to study accounting in college. He’s good at math. Nam says she’d like to hire him one day. Both vow to stay in touch.
Chicago Lights always welcomes tutors. If you’d like to volunteer, go to ChicagoLights.org.