Volunteer numbers for the Inyo County Mentor Program continue to rise thanks to efforts by Inyo County Health and Human Services to raise awareness of local youth in need of guidance from older role models.
Health and Human Services is planning an appreciation dinner for the five adult volunteers who are working with or training to work with local youth. The county is also asking anyone who would like to volunteer with the program to sign up for the program.
Adult volunteers in the Inyo County Mentor Program commit to six months of involvement and weekly contact with a local child between the ages of 7 and 17, spending a minimum of four hours a month with their “adopted” child. Mentors also meet monthly for a mentor-to-mentor peer support group meeting.
“Inyo County Mentor Program believes children’s self esteem can be shaped by having positive interactions with caring adults,” said Valerie Behrendt, Inyo County mentor coordinator and social worker.
The program currently provides support for five matches between mentors and local youth. Two male mentors have made long-term commitments with their youth, with one having been involved in the program for nine years, working with two boys.
That mentor was first matched with a kid for four or five years before his youth moved out of the state. Despite the distance, the two still have periodic telephone contact.
His second match was the beginning of a relationship that has lasted three years is ongoing.
This mentor volunteer participated in similar programs in the Bakersfield area as a young adult and continues to communicate with his young friends from that area.
“Our other awesome male mentor has been matched for about five years and is continuing to work with youth through difficult and trying times which provides both with a valued relationship,” Behrendt said in a press release.
The Inyo Mentor Program recently had three new mentors sign up and those individuals are waiting to be matched.
“Our newest incredible mentors have reached out from their own lives into our community to work with youth, we are so blessed to have these astounding, exceptional, generous and giving individuals sharing their lives and time participating in our program,” Behrendt said. “I’ve been mentoring for many years in my life, there is nothing like the feeling that you have made a difference in a young person’s life, especially when they needed it,” said one local volunteer who wished to remain anonymous. “Working side by side on the simple activities like fishing, hiking or even cooking dinner helps show that we care and give opportunities to guide them in life’s decisions. One of my favorite aspects of the process is when years later, we talk about the things we did and the fun we had. It is a good excuse to go out and have fun in life.”
“I learned of the Mentor Program at work and decided it would be a rich, fulfilling experience to help out a kid an it has been all that and more,” said another volunteer who did not want to be named.
“Many of us remember a person who was not our parent, who was special to us during our childhood,” Behrendt said. “We respected this person, had fun with them, and probably learned something important which shaped our lives in a significant way.”
Another mentor translated her experiences as a youngster into a career and, eventually, her own work with kids.
“The librarian was one of my favorite people and now I am a librarian,” she said.
One local mentor’s wife has experienced both having an informal mentor, and being one. “A mentor really can be anybody, not just someone who has achieved a lot of impressive goals in their life.” As a child she had a formal mentor who simply provided her and her friends a backyard to spend time together. Now, she herself has several children in her neighborhood who stop by to hang out, talk, or go for walks.
“Inyo County Health and Human Services would like to thank Inyo County mentors, community volunteers, coaches, neighbors and youth pastors who work with children and make youth involvement a priority and positive experience,” a press release from HHS states. “Thanks to all those individuals spending time and providing support youth in our community. Thanks for all your individual and accumulative efforts to help our youth become healthy, hard working community members.”
Anyone who is interested in volunteering as a mentor is invited to call Behrendt at (760) 873-8039.