YouthFriends Effort Grows to 20,000 Volunteers
The YouthFriends mentoring program has been forging lasting bonds between K-12 students and adults for a decade.
And as it prepares to celebrate its 10-year anniversary on Jan. 18, program officials are looking back on some of those lasting bonds to honor a program that has grown from 613 volunteers in Kansas City, Mo., to 20,000 in Kansas, Michigan, and Missouri.
Nancy Parks, YouthFriends’ vice president of programs and communication, said one current college student—who started working with a YouthFriends mentor 10 years ago when the boy was in 3rdgrade—still meets weekly with his former mentor.
The initiative began in 1995 with a pilot project in six school districts in Kansas City, Mo. Today, Ms. Parks said, the almost 20,000 volunteers mentor about 135,000 students.
The one-on-one approach of YouthFriends and the consistency of the weekly meetings in schools can help build self-esteem for some students, she said.
Evaluations show that students with YouthFriends mentors show improvements in academic performance, school attendance, and feelings about school, according to Ms. Parks.
Volunteers meet with students on the school grounds during school hours. Some meet with them during lunch, while others meet during after-school activities.
Several YouthFriends volunteers use e-mentoring, an e-mail communication system in which they stay in touch with students and help them with schoolwork or decisions about future careers.
Sandi Hackman, a YouthFriends employee and volunteer, has been mentoring Claudia, a Mexican-born girl who moved to Missouri five years ago. At the time, Claudia did not speak a word of English. Now, the 4th grade girl is one of the best readers in her class.
Yet Claudia is not the only one who benefits from the weekly meetings.
“YouthFriends gave me a window to learn about a culture I did not know about,” Ms. Hackman said. “And I was happy to transfer my love of reading to someone else.”
Vol. 24, Issue 14, Page 3