Community Based Mentoring:
Children are referred to Bridges Kinship Mentoring from a variety of sources including school, county social workers, psychologists, Children’s Mental Health, First Call for Help, word of mouth, and by parents themselves. Some children are living in single parent homes, some live with grandparents or foster homes. Some of the children have both parents, or a step-parent, in the home. Some have experienced some form of abuse – emotional, physical or sexual – or neglect. The involvement is voluntary and children really want to have a special adult friend. Children from ages 5 through 17 are eligible.
How does it work?
The child’s parent/guardian completes the application, which includes family information/history, an interest survey and a home visit. Some children get matched soon after they are placed on the waiting list, while other may wait for over a year.
Volunteers come to Bridges through many different ways-churches, friends, adverstisement, cement trucks. All volunteers complete an application with four character references, a criminal background check, an in-depth interview with two staff members, and attend an orientation/training. They are asked to be able to spend at least 6 hours a month with the child and commit to a year, (yes only a year), with the possibility of the match extending beyond the initial year. In addition to individuals applying to be a mentor, couples or entire families can mentor a child together.
Staff discusses with the volunteer children who could be a suitable match. Considerations include geographic location of both, interests, age and gender preferences, and if there are any issues deemed uncomfortable for the volunteer to deal with. The potential volunteer is then described to the parent and child. Upon their consent, a match appointment is set up.
The volunteer, parent, child and a Bridges staff person meet, often at the child’s home but the initial meeting could take place anywhere (Bridges office, child’s school, mentor’s home). It is a time for everyone to briefly get acquainted and have the parent and volunteer reach an understanding on best times for the child to be with the mentor, protocol for making arrangements to get together, time expected to be home, etc. The Bridges staff maintains regular contact with both parties for the duration of the match. Volunteers and parents can have more contact as needed.
Most get-togethers between the kids and the mentors center around everyday activities like making dinner together, sharing in personal hobbies, going for a walk, playing ball, going fishing. Some mentors enjoy attending the mentee’s school activities or sporting events, or attending high school games, going bowling, or seeing a concert or play. A number of organizations/businesses offer free or discounted opportunities for mentees and mentors.
Bridges has get-togethers for the mentor and mentees about every 6 weeks or so. Some are Food n’ Fun Nights (usually held at Zion Lutheran Church) as well as bowling/mini golf, fishing and an occasional baseball game.
Bridges Kinship Mentoring offers ongoing support to all mentors, individually and in a group setting. Look for upcoming “Stump the Staff” mentor support sessions.