REGION – MENTOR Vermont recently awarded four COVID-19 response grants, totaling $174,014, to youth mentoring agencies in rural communities in northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast Vermont. This one-time funding in response to the pandemic comes from a larger $1.25 million three-year federal grant that the Vermont Department for Children and Families and MENTOR Vermont received from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to provide mentoring services to youth, ages 6 to 17, living in rural Vermont communities inordinately impacted by the opiate epidemic.
These four grants include: a $50,000 grant to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Vermont to support programming both in the Northeast Kingdom and in Windham County; a $50,000 grant to The DREAM Program to support programming in Bennington and Windsor Counties; a grant of $26,416 to Franklin County Caring Communities to support the Watershed Mentoring program in Franklin and Grand Isle Counties; and a grant of $47,598 to the Mentor Connector to support their mentoring programs in Rutland County. This funding is designed to allow mentoring agencies that were candidates to be a part of the larger three-year grant to have the financial support they need this summer and fall to maintain their current matches and further adapt their models to address new needs posed by the pandemic, and create a successful infrastructure for expanding their mentoring services to more youth in the coming years.
“Youth mentoring program leaders and their mentors have been steadfast during the pandemic and have continued to support young people under unprecedented circumstances,” said Chad Butt, executive director of MENTOR Vermont. “We want to do everything we can to support their work and are grateful for OJJDP and DCF’s flexibility with this funding, which will help serve an urgent need while also setting up the project for long-term success.”
Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the state of Vermont and MENTOR Vermont adjusted the scope of their grant from OJJDP to be responsive to the immediate needs of mentoring agencies serving underserved rural communities in the originally proposed four regions of Vermont. Mentoring programs have needed to shift their staff time to provide additional support to their existing mentor matches to ensure that their youth participants are able to lean on the consistency of their established relationship with their mentor, even if they aren’t able to meet in person.
For programs, this has meant devising new and creative means for communication between mentors and mentees, increased frequency of check-ins with all constituents, additional training for mentors, and adjustments of policies and procedures. Additionally, the current pandemic has meant programs had to temporarily pause starting new matches while procedures were updated, and agencies have also struggled to fundraise for their programs’ operational costs.
OJJDP’s original grant award to DCF and MENTOR Vermont was designed to provide mentoring services to youth living in rural Vermont communities affected by the opiate epidemic, and increase the number of total youth served by 200 over the course of the grant period.
Over the past five years, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy has advocated for expanding the eligibility for the national OJJDP youth mentoring funding to allow for grants to go toward supporting rural states like Vermont that have been disproportionately impacted by the opiate epidemic. DCF and MENTOR Vermont became eligible to apply for funding because of a new category that allows a state government agency to receive a grant and sub-grant it to other agencies that can meet the needs of smaller, local communities.
For more information about mentoring programs and initiatives in Vermont, visit www.mentorvt.org.