WINDSOR, Vt. – During the current pandemic, our community’s youth need adult mentors more than ever. Schools are closed, support services are less accessible, families are isolated, and households are suffering financial stress beyond anything they have previously known. In the midst of this crisis, children are in an emotional whirlwind and many have nowhere to turn for support. Windsor County Mentors, the youth mentoring organization that serves all of Windsor County, is finding opportunities in this pandemic to address the needs of our mentoring participants in new and creative ways.
Windsor County Mentors has been creating and sustaining matches between children and adult volunteer mentors for nearly 50 years. The public health crisis of the past few months, however, creates an unprecedented set of challenges in addressing the needs of our mentors and youth. While all of our mentoring activities normally conducted in person are on hold, the need for personal connection with a trusted adult has never been greater for the young participants in our programs.
This pandemic demands changes in the way WCM programs address the community’s needs and, as a result, has introduced new mentoring formats that are sparking creativity and taking advantage of today’s technologies for social connection. These are some of the successful ways our volunteer mentors have found to maintain the important connections they have with their young friends:
Mentors are setting up regular telephone or video chat meetings with their mentees. Typically done on a weekly basis, these meetings give the youngsters a regular opportunity to talk through what’s going on in their lives, express their feelings with a trusted friend, and gain perspective from a caring adult outside of their home or school connections.
Mentors and mentees have become pen pals. Mail and email correspondence between mentoring pairs keeps both partners engaged, encourages expression through writing, photos, and artwork, and delivers a spark of encouragement in the mailbox or by email.
Sharing books, information, websites, music, and virtual activities just for fun gives children opportunities for enjoyment outside of their assigned schoolwork. Some of our older mentees have been reading books simultaneously with their mentors, then using part of their virtual meeting time to discuss them. Mentors with younger mentees have been reading to the children during their phone or video chats. Partners go on virtual museum tours, watch music events, and learn together about new interests or hobbies to try in the future.
Mentors are using the internet to find crafts, riddles, word games, puzzles, stories, and other fun, low-tech activities for children and teens, and are sharing these with their mentees during their chat times.
Mentors and mentees have taken turns interviewing each other for a mock magazine article – devising a theme, choosing questions, and writing up a story to share.
Today’s technology is also allowing WCM to conduct administrative procedures in new ways. Staff are holding informational meetings and providing training for new and potential mentors via video conferencing. This week marks the first mentor-mentee match process to be completed using remote meeting technology. With in-person outreach and volunteer recruitment on hold until further notice, WCM regional coordinator Patricia Daddona has reached two Springfield area faith-based organizations through recorded video messages that introduce WCM programs.
Although social distancing requirements are currently necessary, Windsor County Mentors is still recruiting volunteer mentors and taking referrals for children. We are actively preparing for the time when in-person activities can resume, and we are establishing protocols to meet the community need for youth mentoring going forward in several ways:
- WCM will provide mentor applications and program descriptions to Windsor County residents who would like to volunteer as mentors. WCM staff will follow up with applicants by email and telephone.
- WCM is conducting preliminary steps required in the volunteer screening process by mail or email and through video conferencing.
- WCM is working closely with MENTOR Vermont, the statewide youth mentoring agency, to establish training and matching procedures in accordance with national mentoring standards and best practices in light of new public health requirements.
- We are accepting referrals for children in need of mentors from school staff, health and social service providers, and families as we anticipate a return to in-person mentoring activities in the months to come.
For further information about Windsor County Mentors or to request an application or referral form, please contact our office by email. Staff is currently working remotely, thus telephone messages may have a delayed response.