United Way: Mentors always in demand

united way mentors in demandSandy Leske, For Sheboygan Press Media 12:18 p.m. CDT August 16, 2015

Mentors play an amazingly positive role in the lives of youth and research confirms what we know — that mentoring works.

The 2013 study “The Role of Risk: Mentoring Experiences and Outcomes for Youth with Varying Risk Profiles” examined mentoring program relationships, experiences and benefits for higher-risk youth, and among the findings determined the strongest program benefit was a reduction in depressive symptoms — a particularly noteworthy finding given that almost one in four youth reported worrisome levels of these symptoms at baseline.

Findings also suggested gains in social acceptance, academic attitudes and grades. In addition to benefits in specific domains, mentored youth also experienced gains in a greater number of outcomes than youth in the comparison group.

Overall, the study’s results suggest that mentoring programs are beneficial for youth.

Mentors come from all different walks of life, with different life experiences at different life stages. At the most basic level, a mentor guarantees that a child is not alone, that there is some else who cares about them.

In Sheboygan County, we need more mentors to step up to the plate. We know through data that there are many “at-risk” children in our community and if only we could provide some support to the parent and most importantly be a friend and role model for the child, we could really make a difference.

We know the following about our young children from the June Early Childhood Development Resource List and Sheboygan Snapshot Data: in 2013-14 the SASD had 54.9 percent of its students eligible for free or reduced lunch with a number of elementary schools having more than 84 percent of its students eligible for free or reduced lunch; in 2013-14 the SASD had 269 homeless students enrolled during the school year; in March 2014 the SASD had 914 Pre-K through third grade students identified as having limited English proficiency; the US Census Bureau and the American Community Survey 2008-2012 showed that 17.4 percent of related children younger than age 5 in Sheboygan County lived below the poverty level.

These numbers are daunting. We don’t know the circumstances of the individual families that are living in poverty in Sheboygan County, but we do know that financial stress billows over onto the entire family, especially the children and that poses great challenges. Maybe mom and/or dad are both working and can’t be home more or maybe it’s just one parent raising the family but working two or three jobs. Whatever the circumstance, children with risk factors desperately need positive adult role models in their lives.

Mentors are trusted friends and help their mentees by supporting them with their education, with day to day living and, later, in the workplace. The best possible thing we can do today is help prepare them for tomorrow.

We are fortunate to have many wonderful programs in our community that are looking for caring adults to get involved such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs, Foster Grandparents/Seniors in Schools, Girl Scouts, Horizons 4 Girls, and Rainbow Kids to name a few. It takes a longer-term commitment on your end to be a mentor and this is why it’s so difficult to get people involved. But it’s definitely worth your time.

We all win when a child succeeds in school, when families are financially stable and when people are healthy. We know that it takes everyone in the community working together to create a brighter future — that’s what it means to live united.

If you have an hour or two a week, there is no greater investment of your time than sharing it with a young person. Check out the volunteer opportunities for those and many other organizations at www.uwofsc.org/volunteer.

Sandy Leske is the director of community development and marketing for United Way of Sheboygan County