By SARA ARTHURS
As it approaches its 40th anniversary, Children’s Mentoring Connection is looking to recruit new mentors — 40, to be exact.
The organization matches children with mentors, who generally work one-on-one. There is also a school mentoring program where children work with mentors in small groups.
The goal is to have the new mentors by Oct. 1, which is the organization’s 40th anniversary.
“We know there’s a growing need,” Executive Director Jennifer Swartzlander said.
She said in 2012 there were more than 30 children on the waiting list. Last year they were able to decrease that number, but it’s back up again this year.
Mentors are matched with children of the same gender, and men are especially needed to mentor boys.
Swartzlander said about 80 to 85 percent of the children on the waiting list are boys. Volunteers from communities outside Findlay such as Arlington, McComb and Rawson are particularly needed. Children’s Mentoring Connection works with children throughout Hancock County.
The children who are matched with mentors, age 6 through 14, are usually children of single parents although sometimes they are children being raised by their grandparents. They do not have to be low-income.
The mentor spends time with the child. Often, Swartzlander said, it’s as simple as sharing a hobby, such as fishing.
Austin Gerber of Arlington has taken Josh Preteroti of Findlay to play laser tag, go swimming and bowling.
“We’ve gone out to eat a lot,” Gerber said.
The pair were matched about a year and a half ago.
Gerber’s wife became a mentor first. He saw that she really enjoyed it, and she told him that men were needed to mentor boys.
Gerber, 27, is administrator at Good Samaritan Society in Arlington. Josh, 13, will be a seventh-grader at Donnell Middle School this fall.
Josh likes that having a mentor means “you have someone to talk to,” especially if there are problems or stresses in his life.
“You get to hang out and do stuff together,” Josh said.
Gerber said mentoring Josh is “a lot of fun.” He recommends mentoring to others.
“It’s the satisfaction you get knowing you’re making a difference,” he said.
Swartzlander said kids face more today including bullying and social media challenges and families are often spread out.
“Every child could use more caring adults in their life,” she said.
She said a national study has found that children matched with mentors do better in school and have a reduced chance of illegal drug use.
The school-based mentoring program started with second- and third-graders at Jacobs School and will this fall expand to also include students at Bigelow Hill, Glenwood and Cory-Rawson schools.
At Jacobs, teachers have reported that children had better attendance and were more engaged with school, Swartzlander said. Activities included Youtheatre and bottle rocket presentations and there were “caring adults there, consistently, week after week,” she said.
Becky Baratta, case manager at Children’s Mentoring Connection, said the children in the school mentoring program are “just gaining confidence and learning new skills.”
As a retired teacher, she said she has enjoyed spending time with children.
“Kids need a listening ear,” she said.
Swartzlander said anyone interested in mentoring can go to the Children’s Mentoring Connection website. Both one-on-one and school-based mentoring opportunities are available.
While most of the non-school mentoring is one on one, sometimes a couple will together mentor a child.
There is also a program for children who are on the waiting list, who are taken out with a mentor in groups of two or three.
Mentors must be 18 or older and must live or work in Hancock County. Swartzlander said what they look for is someone “young at heart.”
Mentors must commit to at least six months, meeting with their child two to three times per month. School-based mentors are asked to make a full academic year commitment.
The application process includes a two-part application questionnaire, an office visit and a home visit. A Children’s Mentoring Connection case manager will check a mentor’s references and conduct criminal and driving background checks, which are conducted and paid for by the agency.
Children’s Mentoring Connection will provide mentors with training and case managers are available to discuss any concerns.
“Mentors come from all walks of life and do not need any special degree,” states an agency fact sheet. “Being a mentor requires a sense of caring, commitment and the ability to relate to a child all while being a consistent role model in his or her life.”
Children’s Mentoring Connection was previously part of Big Brothers Big Sisters but is now a private organization. A United Way agency, it has also received a Community Foundation grant which pays for the school mentoring program.
Since 1974 Children’s Mentoring Connection has served more than 3,400 boys and girls from Hancock County.
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