January is National Mentoring Month, a campaign aimed at expanding quality mentoring opportunities to connect more of our community’s young people with caring adults. United Way is eager to celebrate this National Mentoring Month and the positive effect mentoring can have on young lives through their new merger with Big Friend Little Friend (BFLF).
BFLF has been serving youth in Yankton for over 40 years and is designed to give young people the opportunity to gain a one to one friendship with a positive and sincere adult mentor. BFLF matches youth with local volunteers through a community-based mentoring program, where the youth and mentor have match meetings at various locations throughout our community, including the mentor or mentees homes.
Due to recent challenges with continuity within BFLF, the sustainability of the program has been uncertain. Therefore, to maintain and add a broader range of services to a larger group of individuals, BFLF became a program component of United Way & Volunteer Services of Greater Yankton.
BFLF Board President, Dawn Henseler shared that this merger “is vital to the youth currently being served, and additional youth looking to add a caring adult mentor into their life. United Way’s leadership and staff will do an incredible job!”
Lauren Hanson, United Way Executive Director is enthusiastic about the merger stating, “our mission is to change lives by mobilizing not only resources but people, volunteers, to improve our community. There is an opportunity to do more, serve more, and make a larger impact together than any of us could do alone.”
Research has shown that when matched through a quality mentoring program, mentors can play a powerful role in providing young people with the tools to make responsible decisions, stay focused and engaged in school, and promote higher quality lifestyle choices. Yet one in three youth in our community will grow up without this critical asset.
Thanks to a recent partnership with the Yankton School District, United Way’s BFLF hopes to close the mentoring gap through a pilot In-School Mentoring program, launching at both Webster and Stewart Elementary Schools this month.
Yankton School District Superintendent, Dr. Wayne Kindle is pleased to be collaborating with United Way’s BFLF In-School Mentoring Program. “We know there are youth in our elementary schools who would appreciate and benefit from an adult mentor from our community. We give thanks to those adult mentors who are providing their time and talents to share with our young kids.”
Webster Elementary School Principal, Melanie Ryken, is excited about the upcoming In School Mentoring launch. “Webster School is so grateful to have a youth mentoring program, such as Big Friend Little Friend, back in action. The collaboration between United Way, community and school will be a phenomenal venture and one that we can make such an impactful difference in the lives of our greatest assets: our youth. Every child deserves the opportunity to have an additional, positive role model in their life and one they can depend on a regular basis. As Robert Ingersoll said, “We rise by lifting others.” This program will certainly fulfill that mission!”
Jerome Klimisch, Stewart Elementary School Principal understands the need for a program like this in the schools and stated, “Every successful adult is quick to give credit to a caring adult in their life who consistently and intentionally built a positive relationship with them as a child. It may have been a teacher, coach, mentor or parent who listened to them and showed an interest in their life. At Stewart School we believe that giving mentors a place to meet and form these positive relationships with kids will increase student learning.”
Recently, BFLF conducted mentoring training for volunteers in both the Community Based and In School Mentoring Programs. The training was developed for the BFLF program thanks to partnership with the National Mentoring Partnership of Omaha and provided trainees with the ability to apply research based best practices in mentoring.
“We currently have 17 volunteer mentors ready to give 1 hour, twice per month, during the school day, sharing their time and positivity with students in a one on one capacity,” shared Tara Bartekoske, United Way Volunteer Program Coordinator.
After the training volunteer mentors are now ready to be paired with a single student mentee with similar interests for the duration of their friendship. This is not a tutoring program. Volunteer mentors use this time in any way which is special to the pair—playing games, doing crafts, shooting hoops, sharing hobbies, and talking about their week.
Mentoring relationships are a shared opportunity for learning and growth. Many volunteer mentors say that the rewards they gain are as substantial as those for their mentees, and that mentoring has enabled them to:
· Achieve personal growth and learn more about themselves
· Improve their self-esteem and feel they are making a difference
· Feel more productive and have a better attitude at work
· Enhance their relationships with their own children
All it takes is one caring person to make a difference in the life of a child, thank you mentors for sharing your time and talents impacting local youth!
For more information about becoming a volunteer mentor or other volunteer opportunities, please contact United Way & Volunteer Services of Greater Yankton at 605-665-6766 or visit www.yanktonunitedway.org/volunteer.