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Guilford Youth Mentoring founder Barbara Solomon (center) will, after 15 successful years, hand the reins of the volunteer organization to Lisa Ott (left) and Simona Nerney. (Photo courtesy of Joe Goldberg )
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How much can you accomplish in 60 minutes? Can you really make a difference in just an hour? After 15 years of dedicating one hour a week, the volunteers and founders of Guilford Youth Mentoring know how much just one hour can dramatically change the life of a child.
Founded in 2000 by a group of social workers, school administrators, and local leaders, Guilford Youth Mentoring pairs adult volunteers with students in the public school system. They meet for one hour a week and founder Barbara Solomon said the impact has been incredible.
“As a school psychologist who spent hours and hours with kids working on problems in their life, I have been continually amazed that one hour a week makes such a difference in kids’ lives,” she said. “It makes them not only more self confident, but more aware of their own capabilities to change their lives and to deal with the issues that confront them.”
The program is celebrating 15 years this spring and Solomon says the program has come a long way from where it began. The group started with only 12 volunteers and has grown to 165 volunteers mentoring 170 kids. The kids in the program aren’t considered at risk, but could just use another caring adult in their lives, according to Solomon.
“It started as an initiative to get more adults involved in the lives of teenagers in a positive way,” she said. “It began at the high school and then all the other schools were interested. Over the course of seven years, we brought the program to all seven schools.”
Despite the all of the accomplishments, 2016 will be a year of transition for the program as Solomon has chosen to take a step back; longtime volunteers Lisa Ott and Simona Nerney will step forward to fill her role. Solomon said it is volunteers like them who have kept the program running all of these years.
“People come into this program and they make a commitment to be responsible, reliable mentor to a child and to honor their commitment to be there all the time, but then we also say, ‘What other skills do you have that you might lend us?’” she said. “We have people who do fundraising, PR, they write articles, etc.”
Moving forward, Solomon said one of the greatest challenges for the program will be coming up with new ways to bring in new mentors.
“We always have a waiting list, no matter how hard we work,” she said. “Last year we had 60 referrals and we worked our tails off to find mentors who are appropriate for each student. I think one of the challenges is to use a new system to make the program more efficient so that more time can be spent finding mentors.”
Even with the challenges and the work, Solomon said the program is one of the most rewarding experiences.
“There is something very magical about an adult, who doesn’t have to, volunteering his or her time to come into a school building to see you,” she said. “They are your special person. The message is ‘You are an important kid and I am here because I want to be here with you.’”
Longtime mentor Doug Danaher agreed with Solomon. Having mentored two kids for nine years, he said he’s very impressed with how the program helps kids.
“As far as where the kids start and where they go to in terms of being socially confident and engaged, that is where you see the biggest difference,” Danaher said. “In both of my situations they kind of just needed—and then they learned—the skills to become a better friend and then literally, once you see that happen, you are like, ‘Oh, I’m not worried about it anymore’ because you know they are going to be OK.”
Danaher, who co-owns Stone Insurance in town, said the program is also beneficial to him as well.
“As far as being a mentor to someone in elementary school, it brings you back to when my kids were that age and gives you the ability to go through it again,” he said. “As far as spending an hour with a 4th grade boy, doing sports, talking football, things like that, it is tremendous. It is a great outlet for me leaving the office.”
The program will hold a celebration in April to reflect on the past 15 years and thank everyone who has been a part of the program.
“We will hopefully bring back some of the original founders who made this vision a reality,” Solomon said. “This year we are hoping to commit ourselves to this transition in our program, because the program will go on even if some of the original people are no longer actively involved.”
To learn more about Guilford Youth Mentoring or to get involved, visit www.guilfordmentoring.org.
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