KIDSAFE CT seeks mentors
By Jessica Ciparelli - ReminderNews
Region - posted Fri., Jan. 28, 2011
REGION - Jeffrey Alexander has raised his children, but there was always something more he wanted to do. He wanted to become a mentor.
“It goes way back,” said the 54-year-old Granby resident. “I have two boys, 23 and 26. Since they were early teens, I always thought it was a good idea.”
But with long work weeks as a medical equipment sales representative and spending time with his own family, finding time for mentoring was difficult - until three years ago. That’s when he was matched up with his first mentee. The boy, now 19, is currently in a work-study program in Vermont and the two still chat by phone every few months. Alexander now meets with his second mentee, a 15-year-old boy. The two enjoy bowling, sharing lunches, hiking, watching football together and playing with Alexander’s dog.
There are all kinds of mentoring programs out there, said Alexander, but he believes none are more effective than one-on-one mentoring, like the mentoring programs at KIDSAFE CT, based in Rockville.
For the last three years, through a contract with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, KIDSAFE CT – a 30-year-old private, non-profit agency dedicated to the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect – has run a one-on-one mentoring program for children between the ages of 14 and 21 who reside in DCF residential facilities. KIDSAFE works with the DCF office in Manchester to administer the program. KIDSAFE serves about a dozen towns in north central Connecticut.
“We get referrals from DCF and work to make a match,” said Michael Wolter, a KIDSAFE CT mentor coordinator.
“It’s really a special population,” said KIDSAFE’s executive director, Angela Atwater. “It’s not the typical population you think of when you think of mentoring – they’re living in residential [facilities], not in foster care. It takes a special person with special training to work with them.”
“Their needs are different,” added Paula Plante, KIDSAFE’s youth programs coordinator.
Mentor coordinator Jean Jaboin is familiar with the needs of children in DCF care. “I grew up in the system – I saw the side where people came in and out of your life,” he said. “They’re looking for stability and consistency – that’s what kids yearn for.”
What makes a good mentor? Someone who is non-judgmental, empathetic, flexible, has realistic expectations, and the ever-important gift of patience.
“Mentors have to gain the mentee’s trust – they’ve been let down so many times in the past,” said Plante. “They really need to empty their cup. Mentors can learn just as much from their mentee as the mentee can learn from the mentor,” she added.
“We definitely want someone who can roll up their sleeves and jump right in,” said Wolter. “Some people come in and think they can make a change quickly. It’s a long-term investment.”
The DCF mentor program requires a one-year minimum commitment, one hour a week, three hours per month. Face-to-face interaction is ideal, but phone calls, e-mails and texts are also acceptable. Mentors must submit to a background check, attend trainings and attend group activities. In return, training and support will be provided.
The DCF-contracted mentor program is not the only mentoring program KIDSAFE runs. There is also the Court Supported Services Department’s (CSSD) Court Involved Youth Mentoring Program, for court-involved youth in the Rockville and Willimantic courts. The youth are between the ages of 10 and 16. Requirements are still being worked out for the CSSD program. In addition, KIDSAFE also has a teen drop-in center at the Cornerstone Foundation for Rockville youth that seeks mentors to be available to the more than 90 sixth-graders and up who stop in to play basketball, foosball or pool and watch movies.
For drop-in center mentors, Plante said KIDSAFE seeks the same type of qualities that are sought for the other mentor programs, except there’s a higher volume of kids coming through the door. The drop-in center is open Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 to 5:30 p.m.; Wednesdays from 6 to 8:30 p.m. and Fridays from 6 to 10 p.m.
All mentors must be at least 21 years old. If you’re interested in mentoring for the DCF one-on-one program, there is a quarterly mentor training program, the first of four in 2011, on Feb. 10, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at KIDSAFE CT, 19 Elm St., in Rockville. Attendance at these trainings is mandatory.
For more information on any of these mentoring opportunities, call KIDSAFE CT at 860-872-1918. For more information on KIDSAFE CT, visit the website www.kidsafect.org.