Foster youth seek adult mentors

October 5, 2011

Foster youth, who have lost strong connections to family through no fault of their own, are craving adult guidance.

That is the word from Dr. Bonnie New, one of two coordinating volunteers for a new mentorship program being offered in Hood River and Wasco counties.

Mentor for Success is a program specially designed to serve foster youth from age 14 until the time that they "age out" of the foster system (between 18 and 21 years of age).

The goals of the program are to improve self-esteem, improve school performance and social skills, increase teens' knowledge of career opportunities and decrease the likelihood of future poor choices related to substance abuse or delinquency.

"I became involved after working as a CASA volunteer. I saw that many of these kids had no strong support or consistent relationship with an adult to give them guidance or advice about growing up," said New, a retired physician.

Volunteer Elaine Castles, a clinical psychologist who consults with the Wasco County public schools, is co-coordinating the two-county effort.

The program is seeking adult volunteers who are willing to be matched with a foster teen. The two will meet for 10 hours per month to share fun activities and phone calls. New emphasizes that adults will not be expected to act as counselors.

"This is really just about being there to listen, encourage and be a reliable adult for the teens in the program," said New.

According to New, three local adults have already stepped up to volunteer in addition to herself and Castle. She estimates that there are currently 15-20 teens in need of mentors across the two counties.

The program fills a service "age gap" between the programs already offered by Big Brothers-Big Sisters and the WINGS program. Mentor for Success is also specific for youth in the foster care system.

The teens will be referred to Mentor for Success adults through the Department of Human Services or Next Door Inc.

To become a mentor, says New, adult volunteers should generally like teenagers and be willing to offer their caring attention and reliability.

Often mentors come from the retired community or those adults currently without young children to care for, allowing time and focus on the teens.

"This program, based on the Powerhouse Mentoring organization model in Portland, is geared to support teens becoming capable, connected adults," said New.

For more information, contact Bonnie New at 541-991-8091 or bnew@mentor4success.org or Elaine Castle at 410-231-1950 or ecastles@mentor4success.org. The organization's website, now being constructed, can be viewed at www.mentor4success.org.

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