Aiding others to help kids

New program pairs aspiring mentors with agencies for a good fit

Orientation, screening given

Aim is to encourage more adults to do one-on-one work

November 08, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Most people agree that mentoring children is a noble pursuit, but it can also be hit-or-miss.

Finding the right combination of personalities and the right organization can be time-consuming and can involve some trial and error, experts say.

But a new agency in Howard County -- Promises to Keep Mentoring Coordination Center -- aims to take some of the guesswork out of the process, while encouraging more people to become mentors.

The fledgling center, which operates under the county's Office of Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland, officially opened last month. "What we know is that one-on-one mentoring -- one adult, one child -- can have a real positive impact on a child's life," said Chaya Kaplan, the project's coordinator. "We want to generally promote mentoring in the community."

Kaplan said the idea for the center grew from a meeting last year between several organizations with mentoring programs, such as the Howard County Sheriff's Office, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, schools and fraternities.

Participants at the meeting decided that some type of central coordination center could recruit and screen potential mentors and link them with appropriate organizations.

At the center, a potential mentor attends a 90-minute orientation to take "a more in-depth look at mentoring," Kaplan said.

The session covers issues such as understanding children and finding activities to share with them.

"This is also an opportunity for someone to say `It's for me' or `It's not,' " Kaplan said.

Once the person fills out an application, Promises to Keep will do reference and criminal background checks.

Qualified applicants are provided with a list of mentoring opportunities based on their interests and time constraints.

The application and screening information are forwarded to a contact at the program they choose; the potential mentor is interviewed there before being paired with a child.

"I will keep in contact with the mentors once a month for a few months," Kaplan said. "Sometimes a match doesn't work out -- not often. We ask the mentors to hang in there; stay with it for a few months."

Neil Dorsey, director of the community service section of the county sheriff's office, said Promises to Keep will provide a valuable service to the county's mentoring organizations.

"They'll know the types of clients we deal with," Dorsey said. "I think the biggest thing is, it will be a focal point for both agencies who want to use mentors and people who want to serve as a mentor."

Kaplan said the project will primarily target school-age children, particularly those not doing well, having family trouble or acting in destructive ways. The children are usually identified through the agency and recruited by Promises to Keep.

"This is a community-building effort," Kaplan said. "There is no question there are kids here who really need the assistance."

Information: 410-997-3557.

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