January is National Mentoring Month. A mentor is a caring, adult friend who devotes time to a young person. Mentors do not replace parents or teachers but they are part of a team of adults devoted to helping a child define their individual goals and then mapping out a path to achieving those goals. Research has shown that one-on-one mentoring programs have had considerable success in reducing delinquency, substance use, and academic failure. These programs also have promoted positive outcomes such as improved self-esteem and social skills and understanding of career opportunities.
Personally, I believe that every child should have at least one adult who is not their parent with whom they can have a personal relationship. Kids often think that their parents are supporting them because “that’s what parents do.” When an adult, who doesn’t “have to,” shows care and concern for the child, that is often appreciated on a different level. For some kids these special adults could be their pastor, their coach, their scout leader, or a teacher. There are many kids in St. Joseph County who don’t have adults like these in their lives and those are the kids that the local mentoring programs hope to help. You don’t need to have any special skills to be a mentor. You just need to be willing to invest an hour or more a week with a child doing things that both of you enjoy.
Traditional, one-on-one mentoring programs are offered by Three Rivers Area Mentoring and by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana. Both programs require a minimum commitment of at least one year because it is very difficult for a child to start building a relationship with someone and then have that person leave them shortly after starting. Both programs also do extensive background checks on prospective volunteers in order to ensure the safety of the children and their families. New volunteers are provided with training and ongoing support is available if difficult situations arise. For information on Three Rivers Area Mentoring call Stephanie Schoon at 269-278-8726. For information on Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana call Rachel Haggenjos at 888-456-1600.
Another program in St. Joseph County that provides mentoring but in a different way is 4-H at MSU Extension. Children involved in 4-H engage in hands-on learning activities in the areas of science, citizenship and healthy living. According to Eva Beeker, 4-H Coordinator for St. Joseph County, the 35 clubs in the county are always looking for adults who are willing to share their time and talents to help young people learn new skills. They would welcome volunteers to teach almost any skill for any length of time, depending on the complexity of the skill. You might be willing to do a simple class on baking and decorating cookies for Valentine’s Day and that might be able to be done in just one session. Someone else might be willing to teach a woodworking class and, because the skill is more complex, that might be extended over 4 to 6 weeks. Eva would love to talk with anyone who is interested in teaching almost any skill. You can reach her at 269-467-5521.
Other programs in St. Joseph County that are looking for volunteers and would like to be included in this weekly column are encouraged to register with United Way. Contact Margaret Shultz, Volunteer Services Specialist, at 269-467-9099 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.