MOUNT VERNON — Last month was National Mentor Month, which offers a chance to bring awareness to the importance of mentoring a child. Established in 1974, the mission of The Children’s Connection is to encourage youths in a positive way and inspire them to become competent, caring individuals in their communities.
“Mentoring Month is about bringing awareness to mentoring. The Children’s Connection, which used to be known as Big Brothers Big Sisters, is the primary agency in Knox County for mentoring,” said Gayle Lyall, program director.
The agency defines being a mentor as one who is a friend — someone who has fun one-to-one with a child. A mentor is an adult to hang out with and talk to. He or she shares special memories and builds a friendship with local youths. Mentors love to enjoy life and have fun. Having fun can be anything — flying a kite, catching lightning bugs, raking leaves, fishing or baking. A mentor is not a substitute parent, miracle worker, gift giver, baby sitter or counselor.
“Mentoring Month is [recognized] across the nation, even our President Barack Obama mentions mentoring. It is just a big awareness of the importance of mentoring because it can make such a difference,” said Lyall. “[A mentor] can make a difference: One hour at a time, one week at a time, one life at a time.”
The agency offers three programs: Big Buddies Little Buddies, Lunch Buddies and community-based mentors.
The Big Buddies program is open to middle and high school students. The mentors meet weekly with an assigned elementary student. They can work on crafts or other activities, talk and share time together, and receive occasional education on drug, tobacco and alcohol prevention.
The Lunch Buddies program is open to adults — business people, retirees, homemakers, college students or any adult in the community.
“For the Lunch Buddies Program, you just show up. You have lunch with a child once a week — you can actually go twice a week if you want — and have lunch, share recess and talk and you are just a friend,” said Lyall. “It’s being a friend to kids who need one.”
The program is offered at Dan Emmett, Columbia and Wiggin Street elementary schools. The Children’s Connection works closely with the school system — principals, guidance counselors and teachers — to monitor the progress of the mentor and mentee.
In the community-based program, adults are matched one-to-one with a youth from age 6 to 17; they meet regularly, and must spend at least four to six hours a month together. The program is open to all adults — individuals, couples, senior citizens and families.
“They are all wonderful programs that reach a lot of kids and make a difference in a small amount of time,” said Lyall.
One of the challenges for the agency is having enough mentors, particularly men.
“That is our challenge for this agency, getting mentors, especially men,” said Lyall. “It would be nice to have more guys, some guys interested in [the mentoring programs].”
The programs do have a waiting list of children in need of mentors, she said, but the number on the wait list has come down.
Lyall has receive positive feedback from students, community members, teachers and parents involved in the programs.
“And the mentors always tell us that they get more out of it than the kids do,” she said. “I would say it is pretty 50/50. [Mentoring] is just a wonderful thing to do and it helps kids so much.”
In order for anyone to be a mentor they must go through an interview, background check, fingerprinting, BVM, and have three references.
“[And with community-based mentoring] we inspect the home, so it is pretty thorough, and then we also check Family Watch Dog and eSORN,” said Lyall.
“[Mentoring] is essential. It helps kids make wise choices not only from abstaining from alcohol, drugs and tobacco, it helps their grades. It helps their self-esteem. We want to help them improve their self-esteem and self-confidence. We also want them to learn how to be kind to people. We want them to give back to the community,” said Lyall.
Mentorship encourages youth to be better people and to achieve their goals, said Lyall; it is very important in helping to shape the lives of the children in a very positive way.
Recently, the agency completed a survey of mentors and mentees in the program. Lyall said many of the children involved commented on how they enjoyed the program and looked forward to meeting with their mentors. The programs involve youth from all socioeconomic backgrounds. With the Lunch Buddies and Big Buddies Little Buddies programs, many of the children are recommended by teachers and staff.
The agency is funded by the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, Safe and Drug Free Schools, United Way, fundraising activities and individual donations.
For more information about being a mentor call the Children’s Connection at 397- 8733.