By Victoria Davis
I am an aunt and now a great-aunt, but I have never been a mother. So it has always been special to me to spend time with a child. Children offer new ways to look at the world and they offer adults an excuse to have childlike fun.
I have mentored three girls through two programs and I currently mentor a young girl through Windsor County Partners in Windsor, Vt. The mission at Windsor County Partners is to “create and support partnerships between caring adults and local youth to help build healthier communities. These mentoring partnerships offer youth shared experiences and ideas to widen their vision of themselves, helping them to become confident, productive members of the community.” The organization originated in 1974 to address the increasing number of children participating in harmful behavior such as premature sex, underage drinking, use of other illegal substances and violence. After 40 years, these issues have not gone away.
Since its beginning, Windsor County Partners has provided mentoring partnerships at no charge for children from ages 5 to 18 who could benefit from long-term and trusting relationships with an adult outside the family. They have created 1,100 adult-youth matches and are currently working to increase the number of partnerships throughout the county. “What is unique about our program,” says Executive Director Jennifer Grant, “is that it connects children one-on-one with local adults, helping children feel part of a broader community. With having the feeling that the community cares about them as a person, children then develop a sense of responsibility to find a fit for their own talents.”
This experience can be such a pleasure for the adult mentor and the youth. It’s a great reason to visit more child-directed venues like the Montshire Museum or the Squam Lake Science Center — but mostly to just spend time talking and exploring where we live. Tossing a ball in a park is a warm-up to a heart-to-heart conversation. Eating in a restaurant is a new experience in ordering one’s own food and requesting, “No onions, please.” These small things to grown-ups can be great self-esteem-building experiences to a child who has the full attention of a caring adult and perhaps a lesson on how to form lasting, positive relationships.
Volunteers give about two hours a week with a commitment of at least one year. This commitment allows building a trusting relationship. Activities depend upon the wants and needs of the Senior (mentor) and Junior (child) Partners. The process to pair the partners is based upon proximity and mutual interests.
Due to multiple jobs, complex living situations or multiple children, many guardians of these children may have little time to provide broad experiences to their child. Another adult making time to take a child for a walk to explore the woods or a park to admire nature can be a joyful experience and offers the profound gift of simply listening to a child.
When I was taking a hiatus from mentoring, I saw a sign at my post office from Windsor County Partners looking for volunteers. It listed excuses for not being a mentor, such as, “I don’t have the money [it doesn’t need to cost much money at all],” “I already raised my kids,” “I wouldn’t know what to do,” “I’m too old,” and “I’m busy….” At that time, I had felt that I was too busy and, as I had passed the half-century mark, I didn’t think any kids would want me for a mentor. But the sign reminded me that these were my issues and not necessarily those of a child who just wants to connect with an adult for two hours a week and gain new experiences and personal attention. I am so glad I called. I don’t mean to say it’s always rosy; it can be a challenge to schedule time with the parents or around school events, but it is worth it. I have been mentoring the same little girl for about a year and a half. We had the option to end the partnership after the one-year commitment, but I decided to continue. And so did she.