Mentor program needs more volunteers
There’s just one problem. There are more youths needing mentors than there are adults volunteering for duty.
Currently, 31 youths from 10 to 18 are being served. Another 25 are waiting to be matched with mentors.
“A lot of times, kids need someone to listen to them, someone to hang out with a be a friend,” said program manager Keisha Gordon. “That’s where mentors can really make a difference in their lives.
“It’s a preventive program. Get them with mentors now and they won’t get involved in negative stuff.”
Chehalem Youth and Family Services collaborated with the county Family and Youth Services Division to launch the countywide Mentoring HUB Program in late 2011. Funding was provided by the Commission on Children and Families.
Some of the young “mentees” are referred by Family and Youth. Some hail from Chehalem’s residential program.
Gordon, a 2012 George Fox University graduate, became manager in September 2012. She oversees coordinators in each city in the county and helps with recruiting, screening and training.
Mentors act as friends and companions, not counselors or job trainers. They get together with their mentees to do fun things or simply talk.
No special background or education is needed, Gordon said. They just need to like and want to help kids.
The mentoring program has some funds available to support activities like going to OMSI or taking in a movie. It also has lists of free activities in which the mentors and mentees can take part, Gordon said.
The most important thing is the time the two spend together, she said. Mentors aren’t there to be gift-givers or to entertain the young people with elaborate outings.
Mentors must make a commitment of at least a year.
“A lot of these kids have seen a lot of inconsistencies,” Gordon said. “The last thing they need is someone who flakes out after a couple months.”
They are asked to spend at least eight hours a month with their mentees. They also need to participate in training, including a two-hour intital session and bi-monthly group meetings.
Applicants for the mentor program must undergo a background check and urinalysis. They also fill out a questionnaire about their interests, so they can be matched with the right mentee.
Men are matched with boys, women with girls. Many of the youths on the waiting list are boys, so men are especially needed, Gordon said.
Lauren Prats of Dayton applied to become a mentor last year after learning about the program last year from a family friend.
“I was super excited,” she said. “I had volunteered with kids before and thought this was a neat program.”
She was matched with an 11-year-old girl last August. “She’s a really neat girl with a lot of charisma,” said Prats, who is in her 20s.
They quickly became friends who hang out together weekly, attending movies, visiting OMSI or going shopping. They also like taking walks together, playing board or card games or doing art activities.
“I’ve tried to be someone she can talk to, someone who’ll listen and just be her friend,” Prats said.
The girl turned 12 in January. “It’s been really rewarding to see her develop as a person, to see how she’s changed and evolved,” she said.
Prats said being a mentor has been good for her, too.
“It’s so much fun,” she said. “Sometimes I think maybe I’m getting more out of it than she is.”
Mary King of Newberg, who coordinates that city’s mentors in addition to serving as a mentor herself, also is enjoying the program. “I’m back being a kid again,” said King, 61.
She spends time with a 10-year-old girl. They go swimming and take part in other fun activities, she said.
“For her, just to get out of the house and see something new makes a whole world of difference,” King said. “When I see the joy on her face ... if for three hours a week, I can bring her pure joy, that’s a good thing.”
King, who works for Chehalem Family Services, said she signed up after noticing so many young people who struggle because they’ve had problems in their lives through no fault of their own.
They need someone to care about them and listen, she said. “Such a small thing, but it changes their lives,” she said.
For applications or additional information, e-mail Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org.