Difference-maker. Game-changer. These are familiar nouns used in advertisements to convince consumers to purchase everything from legal services to exercise equipment. But for folks who want to make a real impact on someone’s life, it can be as simple as sharing a few hours of their time.
The Outagamie County Mentoring Program matches adult volunteers with youth ages six to 17 who are involved in the Outagamie County Juvenile Justice or Child Welfare systems. The volunteers are matched one-on-one with the kids and become positive role models in their life.
Nikki Gingras, the program coordinator, said the greatest reward of the program is when the relationship blossoms.
“Seeing a match develop into a really close relationship, knowing that now the kids have a consistent adult in their life,” she said. “Knowing that they have someone they can depend on.”
Gingras said most kids in the program live in female-headed households. Their father is either deceased, incarcerated or has other issues.
Research has proven that just one positive exposure to an adult makes a big difference on who you become. In fact, a report from 2013 shows that 75 percent of youth in the Outagamie County Mentoring Program were never referred back to the juvenile court system.
Members of RSVP are the largest group of mentors. Some of them never had kids or don’t have grandchildren in the area, so it’s a perfect match.
Our oldest mentor ever was 81,” she said. “So I don’t let people tell me that they are too old. Some of our mentors get to be kids again!”
Currently, there are 44 children (mentees), who are matched – but 30 kids are waiting. Gingras said girls remain on the waiting list for about six months. Boys can wait for 12 to 18 months. Recruiting male volunteers is the greatest challenge of the mentoring program.
Volunteers spend four to eight hours a month with their mentees, but those hours are flexible. The pair plans their own activities. Mentoring doesn’t mean spending a lot of money – it’s all about the relationship, not the activity.
Matches take walks, play games, shoot hoops or go to the park.
Gingras said mentors also receive rewards from the experience.
“They learn how little it takes to make a big difference in a kid’s life,” she said. “It’s just spending time with them.”
Sewer and crafter Joanne Delforge, who is an RSVP member, mentored a teenager for about nine months.
“I had her come one day and I showed her how to use the sewing machine,” she said. “We went shopping and she picked out fabric and she made a pillowcase. It was the highlight of her experience!”
There is no educational background or experience required to be a mentor. A mentor is not a counselor, social worker or a replacement for a parent. Mentors are provided with training, ongoing support and education. Mentors and mentees attend several group outings throughout the year, including an annual holiday party that was held in December at the Darboy Club. RSVP members also are eligible for mileage reimbursement.
Folks interested in becoming a mentor complete an application. After a background check is completed, an interview is set up with prospective mentors at their home. Then they come to the agency and review a list of youth on the waiting list. After they choose their mentee, they can meet with him or her at the agency or at the mentee’s home.
WHAT IS MENTORING?
Mentoring is a relationship over time between two people when the mentor provides consistent support, guidance and inspiration to help youth as they travel through life.
WANT TO HELP?
If you would like to receive monthly e-mails from Outagamie County Mentoring Program on Spotlight Youth of the Month that provides the background of a youth looking for a mentor, contact Nikki Gingras at [email protected] or 920-832-2460.