Mentors bring success to local youth, community

There are 15 teens in the Gorge who can now boast something not many others can say they have: a mentor.

According to Dr. Bonnie New, program manager of Mentor for Success, a program of The Next Door Inc., the innovative project matches adult volunteers with at-risk teens to exchange life-lessons and brighten futures.

“The idea with mentoring is to create results over a longer period of time as these young adults learn problem solving skills,” said New. “The nice thing is that some students have made remarkable progress in a short period of time.”

“I’ve loved mentoring! My mentee and I will always be close “She has become like family to me,” said Alice Kimball, one of this year’s adult mentors. “I’d recommend mentoring to any and everyone who has a bit of time and a love for kids; it’s super rewarding. The kids seem so grateful to have their mentors in their lives, even when communication is only a “like “ on facebook or a quick “how you doing?” text (in between meetings).”

The program invites community adults to volunteer 10 hours per month over the course of one year, providing guidance, “not parenting,” that will help prepare the 14- to 18-year-olds toward independence and success.

“We have eight mentor-mentee pairs who are coming up on their one-year anniversary,” said New. This is the program’s first official year of operation as well. Some of those mentor-mentee pairs will continue on together beyond their one-year commitment.

Starting initially as an independent nonprofit, Mentoring for Success is now a component of The Next Door Inc.’s community support services. New is joined by two additional staff, match counselor Elaine Castles, a psychologist, and match coordinator Fern Johnson.

“We have a volunteer training scheduled for May 18, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the NDI offices and includes a free lunch,” said New. Elaine and Fern will be conducting the training.”

Adults interested in helping teens often wonder what mentoring involves.

“Our training is divided into two parts,” New said. “First, we educate our prospective volunteers about who our students are; as a group, they share common characteristics.

“They usually come to us, identified by a pubic school counselor, as needing extra support at home — typically sharing challenges in academics, interpersonal skills and fitting in with their peers.

“In the second half of the training, we go into what is the role of a mentor. We explain what this new type of relationship is. It is about setting boundaries and trying to help the child identify their interests and gifts and to make the most of those — to find out what they have to work with.

“We also try and teach the mentor how to guide the child so they learn problem-solving skills; these are older kids who are about to be on their own,” said New.

The program differs from Big Brothers Big Sisters, which primarily serves younger children, as it is not just taking them out for experiential learning, said New.

“Mentor for Success is trying to build these young adults into people who are more capable of being on their own in the very near future,” she said.

Individual adult mentors are matched with individual teens by gender, personality types, residence location and interest areas. In one case, a couple has decided to share the mentor job for one young man.

Matches are sought for teens in every community in the Gorge from Stevenson to The Dalles, and male mentors are currently in shorter supply.

“We have four men out of our 15 mentors,” said New. “The men we have, though, are great; and they have all said they really love this experience.

“We have oodles of kids who have been referred and are always looking for more adult volunteers,” New said.

“Our mentors gain a lot out of the experience and are really enthusiastic about talking about it,” she added.

When asked what she appreciates about the program, volunteer mentor Aera Atkins said, “It’s an opportunity to expand your awareness and understanding at every step of the process, from the concise training program to getting to know your mentee, to the sharing sessions with other mentors. There is excellent support from the program staff and expert advice just a phone call away.”

In addition to standard background screening, the program asks for 10 hours a week of face-to-face contact, but allows for scheduling needs, offering phone call, Facebook and email contact when conflicts arise. The one-year commitment allows teens who have had inconsistent adult guidance a chance to develop trust over time.

“It takes a little time to warm up to each other and this is sometimes a real challenge for kids in our program; because of difficulties they’ve had at home, it’s harder for them,” New said.

Most incoming adult volunteers arrive by invitation or word of mouth from others who have become involved. Both adults and teens benefit from the mutual goals of making life a better, more successful pathway for everyone.

Training days are offered four to five times per year. Contact Bonnie New at 541-490-9919 or bnew1@live.com for more information.

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