Give gift of guidance: Groups aim to recruit 100 mentors
If the thought of mentoring has ever crossed your mind, this is your chance.
Organizations working within the Champaign Coalition are hoping to recruit 100 new mentors this year, and are emphasizing the different local programs and opportunities for adults to get involved.
Sue Grey, the president and chief executive officer of the United Way, said that in today's world, kids need some guidance from adults they can trust.
"It's not a 'Leave It to Beaver' world anymore," Grey said, referring to the popular television show from the 1950s and '60s.
Grey can tick off the names of several adults who "took the time to care" about her when she was growing up.
In today's busy technology-driven society, she said, it's important to connect adults who care with kids who need some support.
"It's that personal interaction ... that can make a difference," Grey said.
She said many kids just need to know they matter to someone.
"If we want to build a community where people are kind ... to other people, we need to teach kids that they receive respect when they earn it," Grey said, and the same goes with teaching kindness.
The United Way brought Wes Moore, a veteran and author, to Champaign for the second time this fall and invited about 500 students to hear him talk.
Twenty-eight who attended said they didn't have someone in their life who was like a mentor.
Then, 29 answered a question about whether they'd like to have a mentor: about 73 percent said they would.
Orlando Thomas, the Champaign school district's director of pupil services, is serving on the Champaign Coalition on the goal of youth development.
Thomas called mentoring important and said the different mentoring organizations in town offer unique experiences and commitment levels.
"You have to figure out your skill set and where you feel most comfortable mentoring," he said.
All local groups offer training and support, and have answers to any questions volunteers might have, he said.
"While they're not all success stories, many of them are," Thomas said.
A three- to five-year commitment is often key to helping a child succeed, he said.
However, local mentoring groups say a mentoring relationship doesn't just help the child.
"It connects people to the community if they don't have many local ties," said Lauren Smith, the community outreach coordinator for the local schools.
Barb Linder, the community connections coordinator in the Urbana schools, agreed.
"When it works, it's absolutely a two-way thing," she said, adding that mentors say they receive more than they give.
For example, Urbana resident Cherie Fletcher and Urbana High School senior Kearia Crider-Harvey have been a pair through CU One-to-One since Crider-Harvey was in sixth grade. During those seven years, they've always met on Thursdays.
"When I come to her, it's like an escape," Crider-Harvey said. "I can talk to her about anything."
Fletcher frequently encourages her, Crider-Harvey said, and called it "a really positive experience."
Fletcher said she finds she's ready to reconnect with Crider-Harvey by the time August rolls around each year. "I miss you. It's time," Fletcher told Crider-Harvey.
"I think it's important to stay connected to young people," Fletcher said about why she mentors. "Kids encounter situations that can be so hard."
She said mentoring is a great opportunity for any adult, although there are challenges, like making sure she's not telling Crider-Harvey what to do but helping her work through important decisions instead.
"I'd do it again," she said.
Champaign-Urbana One-to-One Mentoring
How it works: CU One-to-One Mentoring is a program that's in both Champaign and Urbana schools, and has school district employees who coordinate it.
The school-mentor coordinators interview would-be mentors to ensure a good match and support the mentors and mentees in hopes to prolong their match, said Lauren Smith, the Champaign schools' community outreach coordinator.
Coordinators also plan events like brown-bag lunches for mentors and create activities that mentors and mentees can participate in, some that also benefit the community.
One important part of the CU One-to-One program is that the school districts partner with local businesses. The latter give their employees release time during the day, an hour each week, to go to a school and mentor.
Time commitment required: CU One-to-One Mentors are expected to volunteer one hour a week during the day at a school during the school year.
CU One-To-One requires a two-hour training session for new mentors, plus an orientation at the school where they'll volunteer.
Mentors in their first year may also attend an optional training session, to help them understand how to deal with various issues that might arise.
CU One-to-One initially asks for a one-year commitment but will ask you to recommit when that year is done. The program is looking for volunteers who are established in the community.
There's a reward for those who stay in for a long time: The program has a separate foundation that awards scholarships to graduating seniors going on to higher education who have been mentees for three years or more. They receive $5,000 over their first four semesters in college, community college or technical school.
How to get involved: Find more information, including an application form, at http://www.cu1to1.org.
TALKS Leadership Program
How it works: TALKS pairs an adults with three students, starting when students are in third grade.
The program is heavily structured, with a curriculum mentors are expected to follow with their group of mentees. The books mentors use are heavily focused on teaching students wisdom and are intended to help students learn how to deal with basic issues.
"It's a preemptive strike on adult problems," said the Rev. Harold Davis, the program's executive director, adding that it runs on what he calls "grandmama common sense."
"I don't think we can have a civil society without people exhibiting basic courtesy to each other. That's all it is," Davis said.
Time commitment required: An hour a week during school day, within the school year. The program is designed to protect mentors' "time, finances and integrity," Davis said.
"Get in, drop a little wisdom, and get out," Davis said is the program's strategy.
How to get involved: To volunteer, contact TALKS.firstname.lastname@example.org or call 351-5889.
Big Brothers Big Sisters
How it works: Big Brothers Big Sisters has three programs: school-based, community-based and as a registered student organization on the University of Illinois campus that serves kids ages 5 through 18.
The first two are more geared toward community members who want to mentor, said Eric Batsie, community partnership manager at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Champaign County. Mentors and mentees are matched through the agency after an interview of the adult and a look into the child's needs. During the first year, a case manager checks in with the match monthly.
School-based matches get together at school during the day. It might work best for adults who have their own kids or who are busy on weekends.
Community-based mentors get together outside of the school day, whether that's in the evening or on a weekend. It might work best for those who live in town but work elsewhere, or might need a more flexible schedule for mentoring.
Time commitment required: School-based mentors are expected to volunteer for a student's lunch period once a week, which might last 20 to 45 minutes. Community-based matches are expected to get together two to four times a month, for as short as an hour or as long as an afternoon.
How to get involved: Call 355-2227 or sign up at http://www.bbbscil.org.
Motivating More Males
or M3, through the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club
How it works: The program was conceived in March 2010, when Champaign residents (then teenagers) Antoine Anderson and Nate Jackson went through the Peer Ambassadors program. They wanted to share their experiences with others, said Tracy D. Dace, unit director at the Boys and Girls Club, and actually "motivate more males."
M3 has two or three adult mentors working with groups of African-American boys both in after-school and Saturday programs. Mentors can get involved in activities that hold their interest, such as coaching basketball, preparing boys for college or even going through a Passport to Manhood curriculum.
The group's goal is to build relationships between students and their peers, as well as with adults. The program serves boys ages 12 through 18.
M3 is looking for male mentors, "particularly men of color," Dace said. They should be able to understand the diversity of the kids involved in the program, have good communication skills and non-judgemental attitudes.
Time commitment required: M3 asks that mentors make weekly contact with the program. Other volunteer activities, like camping trips, are available for those who can't volunteer on a weekly basis.
"It's very fluid, in a way," Dace said. "But kids are fluid."
How to get involved: Call Dominique White at the Boys and Girls Club at 352-4229.