Mentoring

THANK YOU

Posted in Mentoring on December 5th, 2018 with No Comments

“There is absolutely no greater feeling than selflessly serving someone else.”

Last week Family Services took a moment out of the busy season to pause and recognize volunteer mentors from our Stand & Deliver, Success Mentors and Big Friends Little Friends programs. In doing so, our mentoring team did an incredible job of highlighting the great work of each of these three programs, and saluting the volunteers who drive their outcomes. “Tonight is all about you,” noted Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s CEO Liz Sweeney as she honored the mentors in attendance for our Mentor Appreciation reception. “While I applaud our staff for the great work they do with our mentoring programs, they cannot do it alone.”

Sweeney then went on to share the story of the gentlemen honored (by Family Services) as  “Mentor of the Year”… Scott Paganelli.  Scott (pictured above with Family Services CEO Liz Sweeney) has been matched in our Big Friends Little Friends program for about a year and half with Bryan.  When our mentoring team approached Scott about mentoring a 10 year old autistic boy, Scott did not hesitate to say “yes” as he knows personally what it is like to live with a disability.  Since being matched, Scott has been the perfect mentor for Bryan, consistently demonstrating great patience and ingenuity in his outings with his mentee.  As a result of their relationship, Bryan has flourished.

We recently caught up with Scott and asked him why “giving back” is, for him, such a priority in life.  To which he replied…   “I was raised by two fantastic, supportive parents who continue to provided  lifelong examples of serving others and volunteerism, which I have throughout my life attempted emulate. Additionally, others, too numerous to count, have been incredibly generous to me throughout my life, with their time and guidance. I’ve greatly enjoyed my time working with children especially, as an adult scouter with the Boy Scouts of America, founder of The Challenger Sports League of Greensboro, NC, an award-winning 501c3 providing sports and recreational opportunities for Greater Greensboro’s disabled youth and now with Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends mentoring program. I’m grateful to have the full support of my wife, Rose, who has embraced Bryan as a member of our family.”

Tragically, a year into their match, Bryan was diagnosed with leukemia and spent several months undergoing medical treatment in Boston.  During this time Scott traveled to Boston to visit Bryan on a number of occasions, cheering up his Little Friend with his favorite food, toys and other tokens of his affection.  His presence has been a tremendous source of support for Bryan and his mother throughout this emotional ordeal.  In addition to his friendship, Scott also launched a Go Fund Me page which helped to raise thousands of dollars to offset Bryan’s medical expenses and support his mother who had lost her job due to the need to be by Bryan’s side in the hospital. All the while, Scott searched for other resources for the family and found a grant that pays transportation costs for kids undergoing cancer treatment.  Scott applied for the grant on the family’s behalf and is awaiting a decision on the request.  “Serving as a mentor to my Little buddy, Bryan, has truly forced me to step considerably outside of my traditional comfort zone,  particularly in light of his ongoing challenges as a young fellow on the autism spectrum, and the unanticipated challenges his cancer diagnosis brought to his family this year.  There is absolutely no greater feeling than selflessly serving someone else, especially when you are supporting such a fantastic, loving family.” 

In the midst of his incredible commitment to Bryan and his family, Scott supports our Big Friends Little Friends program on countless other fronts – attending virtually every event since he has been matched including Bowl a Strike for Kids and our annual Rhapsody Gala. He also serves on our Big Friends Little Friends Program Support Committee helping us to source pricing for match activities. In closing, we asked Scott if there are lessons that Bryan teaches him?  “I went into this new adventure with him with a bit of apprehension and a general understanding of the importance established routines are to individuals on the spectrum.  I also know how life can throw you unexpected curve balls without notice.  This was one of my greatest concerns.  During one of our very first outings, Bryan and I had a thorough discussion on the importance of flexibility.  Bryan responded with great understanding, enthusiasm and gratitude.  His willingness to be flexible while we scramble to come up with plans B, C and sometimes even D at the last minute, is inspiring, particularly as I know how challenging this is for him.  Also, his eagerness to attempt small life lessons, skills and new experiences such as using a knife to cut apples for a homemade apple pie, or having him help me work the gas pump to fill my tank on one of our adventures, makes me appreciate how much he is stepping outside of his own comfort zone, how much he is giving to our relationship and the trust he places in me.”

As she concluded her praise for the service of the  volunteers who filled the Mentor Appreciation reception, Ms. Sweeney extended the organization’s collective appreciation with… “What can be said about people who volunteer other than THANK YOU.”  We are so grateful to Scott and to all of our mentors for your selfless service of others and for the difference YOU make in the lives of these children!

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends is a youth mentoring program that matches caring adult mentors with young people who could benefit from a relationship with a positive adult role model. The goal of the program is to develop the positive potential of young people by providing them with support, guidance and friendship.  Serving fifteen towns in the Merrimack Valley, each year our Big Friends Little Friends program matches approximately 100 children with mentors.  To learn more about the many wonderful children who hope to be paired with an adult mentor, please contact our Big Friends Little Friends program at 978-327-6600.

Big Friends are caring and responsible people who:

  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions, and like to have fun.
  • Are committed to being a consistent role-model; to their continued mentor training; and to sharing, listening and visiting with their Little Friend.
  • Are able to relate positively and in a meaningful manner to a growing boy or girl.

Little Friends are boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 14 who:

  • Reside in our service area.
  • Have a desire to be in the program and want to have a Big Friend.
  • Have the approval and support of their parents or guardians to participate in the program.
  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions.

Our mentoring program service area includes children from: Amesbury, Andover, Boxford, Georgetown, Groveland, Haverhill, Lawrence, Merrimac, Methuen, Newbury, Newburyport, North Andover, Rowley, Salisbury, and West Newbury.  Please consider helping us make our long wait list vanish this holiday season by signing up to be a Big Friend today!  Check out one of our great matches… Omar and Boris.

 

Proud to be a SUCCESS MENTOR!

Posted in Mentoring on November 28th, 2018 with No Comments

So much of being a mentor is just being there for somebody.

Last month, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley kicked off year two of our Success Mentors program at Lawrence High School.  In the words of our Chief Executive Officer Liz Sweeney… “What can be said about people who volunteer, other than THANK YOU.”  One of the many volunteers we would like to thank is 9th grade Biology teacher Maria (Maya) Jarostchuk (pictured here with her mentee sophmore Surenisha Velasquez).  Maya is back for her second year serving as Surenisha’s mentor.  The mutual respect the two share is remarkable and so inspiring!  Maya recently took the time out of her busy schedule to share her personal experience as a Success Mentor in the form of the following essay.  Thank you Maya!  To learn more about Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s mentoring programs, please visit…

All first year teachers would agree that none of us had any idea what we were doing. We spent the first year in a never-ending mess of lesson plans, behavior systems, grading, parent communication. At the end of most days, we would find ourselves home past dinner time, laying on the floor in the fetal position and eating large amounts of ice cream in order to cope with the stresses of first year teaching. We would fall asleep at night, eyes burning from the hours spent on the computer, with our students’ faces popping into our heads. We would wake up to a 5 am alarm, wishing we had a “normal” job where we got to sit at a desk and interact with zero high schoolers all day.

 I am currently in my second year of teaching 9th grade Biology at Lawrence High School, and every day is different. Some days are sweet, others are sour. On these sour days, I leave work with a bitter feeling in my heart, feeling overworked, underappreciated and completely exhausted. During my first year of teaching, I think I left sour most days… I felt like I was drowning in a sea of grading, lesson planning and meetings, all while trying to stand up in the front of 25 9th graders several times a day and be the authoritative figure who would teach these kids Biology. It felt hopeless.

 Looking back to the previous year, it seems crazy that I would sign up to be a Success Mentor as a first year teacher- I had several mentors myself who were helping me be a better teacher, how was I qualified to mentor a student who truly needed my support? I was not meeting the needs of the 100 + students I taught in the classroom, how could I take on the responsibility of keeping yet another a student on track?

What I learned within the first day of becoming a mentor was that being a mentor is completely different from being a teacher. Students come to Lawrence High School guaranteed to have a teacher for every content for every grade, but they are not guaranteed to have a mentor. Our kids need mentors. They absolutely need them. Mentors are more than just a “nice” or “helpful” teacher. A mentor truly invests not just in the student, but also in the person. We often forget that we are teaching people- these people may be young, they may not be perfect, they may not always do their best work or come to class, but they are people nonetheless. Being a mentor has taught me that our students are people who need to be treated as such. School alone is not going to guarantee success for everyone- some people who come (or don’t) to my Biology class need a little extra support and love, and that is where the line from teacher to mentor must be crossed.

I was paired with Surenisha Velasquez. The first day we met, Surenisha sat me down and explained who she was, what was important to her, and what she needed from me. This seemingly quiet young lady had so much to say, so much to worry about, and so much to ask… her grades and attendance were not due to laziness or an unwillingness to work hard, but rather a lot of external challenges that she was facing. Together, we talked about and worked through some of the struggles that she was having- with schoolwork, attendance and friends. It was amazing how quickly Surenisha went from being my assigned mentee to just another part of my life, a part that was different from the stresses of being a teacher. Taking 30 minutes to eat Wendy’s for lunch was not overwhelming, even when I had work to do. Walking Surenisha across campus to her classroom was no problem at all, even if I was tired or in the middle of something. All of a sudden, I had become a mentor, and what I realize now, is that so much of being a mentor is simply being there for another person.

I can take little credit in the change in Surenisha’s grades, attendance and overall attitude towards school. She did the work. She stayed after school and during lunch to redo or complete missing work. She made sure to come to school every day, even on days where she could have skipped. She made sure to walk away from friends, teachers, or students who were frustrating her. All I did was make sure that I was there for her, and by being there, all I did was give her the space within the school where she felt comfortable and cared for. Surenisha worked extremely hard and was able to get her grades up and pass the 9th grade. She is now a happy 10th grader who is so busy and involved that she only has time to come check in with me once in a while, but it is always with a smile and a million things that are going great.

As a mentor, I thought that I would be teaching my mentee. However, I learned so much from mentoring Surenisha.  Life is prickly sometimes, and it can get extremely prickly for a high schooler who is trying to balance school, work, friends, family and everything that comes with being in high school. As teachers, we see the best and the worst sides of students we teach. Some days we see smiles and effort and 10/10 on classwork, other days we see frowns, tardies and 0/10s. What we have to remember is that we are teaching students, but working with real live people. Sometimes we forget that people are allowed to have bad days, weeks, months or even years. We forget that we should treat all people with kindness and respect. We forget that sometimes the people who seem like they don’t want or need love, actually need it the most. We forget all of this, when we as first, second or even tenth year teachers need the same things. I listened to Surenisha, she listened to me. I complained to Surenisha, she complained to me. I gave Surenisha advice, she gave it right back to me. Being a mentor means to have an equal relationship with another person, to help each other learn from one another and support one another through any challenges.

I still have sour days, I still find myself in the fetal position, and I still eat a lot of ice cream in year 2 of teaching. However, becoming a Success Mentor has done nothing but add sweetness to my experience working at Lawrence High School. Being a teacher is important, but being a mentor is equally if not more important. Mentoring Surenisha has helped ground me in why anyone who works with our youth does the work that we do – because we want to be the adults that help these young people grow into the people that will then help the future young people. We want a world where giving someone support, checking in, asking if they are okay is a regular occurrence. I am proud to be a Success Mentor and feel so fortunate to have gotten to build a relationship with such an incredible young lady.

 

The Very Best Gift!

Posted in Mentoring on November 27th, 2018 with No Comments

Local Big Friend Shares Her Time Well Spent

Sandy Currie is grateful… grateful for many things in life, and among her “blessings” has been her experience sharing time one on one with local children as a Big Friend.  About eleven years ago Sandy signed up to become a volunteer mentor in Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends program, and for her it’s made all the difference.  At the time she had some extra hours on her hands and decided to offer them to a young child in need.  That one Little Friend, Toni-Ann (9 years old at the time of their match, and now 20), in time led to a second mentee, 11 year old Elaine.  “To be honest, the program gives me more than I give to it,” says Sandy who recently shared an inside glimpse of her personal experience as a volunteer Big Friend.  “Mentoring is time well spent,” reflects Currie.  “You learn more from the child than you can imagine.  Time spent with a little friend is precious and it can be a pleasure.  Spending two hours with a Little Friend goes so fast, and soon you will be wanting to spend more.”  She sums up her two hour commitment with the saying, “time flies when you are having fun”, and she advocates documenting the experience in photographs… “Take pictures every time you meet.  As you look back at them you’ll see it is, for sure, time well spent.”

Despite her professional commitments and service mentoring two young ladies, Currie still manages to find some time for herself.  And in those hours?  She enjoys sewing (quilting), crocheting and watching a good movie – all activities she shares with her Little Friend(s).  A great big THANK YOU to Sandy for her service and to all of our volunteer mentors for the difference you make in the lives of local children!  

 
Do you recall how you originally learned about Family Services and our Big Friends Little Friends program?
I do not have children of my own, and I wanted to share my time with a young child.  My friend Paula King mentioned to me that there was a program that I may enjoy.  In the past, I was involved in non-profits on the Board of Directors of Essex Art Center, Life Links, and spent time with children in a women’s shelter.  This program had a one to one with a child and had the opportunity to bond with a child.

How does mentoring speak to your personally as a form of giving back?
Mentoring is fun.  Yes, at times it can be challenging, but it is worth it. I receive so much joy in spending time with my two friends.  I started the program when Toni-Ann was about 9 (pictured above with Sandy).  She is now taking classes at Northern Essex Community College, and I see her when she has time.  I have been with Elaine now for one year and hope to see her attend college also.  It is very the best gift, spending time with children and see them grow, one can receive.  I give of my time, but I receive so much more.  

How long did it take for you and your Little Friend Elaine to fall into a rhythm or comfort level with one another?  What has she taught you over time?
Elaine is a very loving person and it took two sessions to feel comfortable with her.  She speaks her mind and lets you know how she feels.  She is a breath of fresh air.  I enjoy spending time with her.  Elaine has taught me to speak up, to not be afraid to try new things and to just have fun.  

Can you share a favorite moment or outing with either of the girls?  
My favorite moment with Elaine was at the Family Services outing at Canobie Lake Park when she was on the log ride and she smiled with joy.  I sent Family Services a picture of her smile and I have that picture at work as well.  

Why is now the time to be a mentor?
If you have time, it is always time to be a mentor.  There is no time like the present.  Now is a good time for me as I have the time.  I am not as young as I used to be, so I have the time now and want to spend it as a mentor.

In closing, is there anything else you wish to share about your experience as a Big Friend?
Just a big THANK YOU, as I am enjoying my time and experience in the Big Friends Little Friends program.

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends is a youth mentoring program that matches caring adult mentors with young people who could benefit from a relationship with a positive adult role model. The goal of the program is to develop the positive potential of young people by providing them with support, guidance and friendship.  Serving fifteen towns in the Merrimack Valley, each year our Big Friends Little Friends program matches approximately 100 children with mentors.  To learn more about the many wonderful children who hope to be paired with an adult mentor, please contact our Big Friends Little Friends program at 978-327-6600.

Big Friends are caring and responsible people who:

  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions, and like to have fun.
  • Are committed to being a consistent role-model; to their continued mentor training; and to sharing, listening and visiting with their Little Friend.
  • Are able to relate positively and in a meaningful manner to a growing boy or girl.

Little Friends are boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 14 who:

  • Reside in our service area.
  • Have a desire to be in the program and want to have a Big Friend.
  • Have the approval and support of their parents or guardians to participate in the program.
  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions.

Our mentoring program service area includes children from: Amesbury, Andover, Boxford, Georgetown, Groveland, Haverhill, Lawrence, Merrimac, Methuen, Newbury, Newburyport, North Andover, Rowley, Salisbury, and West Newbury.  Please consider helping us make our long wait list vanish this season by signing up to be a Big Friend today!  Check out one of our great matches… Omar and Boris.

 

 

I Just Want to Help Out a Kid

Posted in Mentoring on November 8th, 2018 with No Comments

Andover Firefighter is a Brand New Big Friend

“I have some time.  My wife and I do not have any children.  I just want to help out a kid,” shares Andover Firefighter Ian Timmons on a recent Tuesday afternoon…  And so here he is at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Canal Street offices making good on his intention and being matched with Joel a bright-eyed 4th grader at Lawrence’s Arlington School.  On that particular afternoon, the two new pals were “matched” – the term used to signify their new status as Big Friend (Ian) and Little Friend (Joel).  The meeting, facilitated by a Family Services’ staff member, represents a first encounter for the two, and it’s a moment brimming with smiles for both the mentor and mentee.

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends is a youth mentoring program that matches caring adult mentors with young people who could benefit from a relationship with a positive adult role model. The goal of the program is to develop the positive potential of young people by providing them with support, guidance and friendship.  Serving fifteen towns in the Merrimack Valley, each year our Big Friends Little Friends program matches approximately 100 children with mentors.

Big Friends are caring and responsible people who:

  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions, and like to have fun.
  • Are committed to being a consistent role-model; to their continued mentor training; and to sharing, listening and visiting with their Little Friend.
  • Are able to relate positively and in a meaningful manner to a growing boy or girl.

Little Friends are boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 14 who:

  • Reside in our service area.
  • Have a desire to be in the program and want to have a Big Friend.
  • Have the approval and support of their parents or guardians to participate in the program.
  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions.

With a wait list of over 100 local children seeking a mentor through Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends, Little Friends program, Joel and his Mom have anticipated “match day” for some time.  Same goes for Ian… “Over the years, friends always ask me to be a godfather to their kids.  I’ve always wanted to do this.  Now, here we are.”  Over the course of their initial introduction the two naturally began to warm up to one another and quickly discovered they have much in common – football being one of their shared passions.  “When I grow up, I want to be a policeman,” announces Joel to everyone on hand for the meeting.  With his new Big Friend the nine-year old will likely get a great glimpse of the lives of those like Ian who serve the public and enforce the law.  Timmons, was honored in 2016 by the Lawrence Exchange Club as a Firefighter of the Year.

No small coincidence the two have much common ground as our Big Friends, Little Friends staff devote a good chunk of time in advance of these meetings to ensure that matches will succeed.  “Match meetings are a great experience for both the mentor, the mentee and the parent(s). It’s the first time they meet, and the feelings of excitement and nervousness are both present. It’s the moment they have been waiting for.  And, for mentees it’s the moment they’ve waited 2-3 years for,” commented Big Friends Little Friends Coordinator Katie Buttner.   “To meet the person that will become their mentor is such a fun and exciting environment to be in. I am so lucky to get to see the look of joy and happiness in their eyes as they meet.”

Best wishes to Ian and Joel as they embark on their brand new friendship.  Family Services is grateful to Ian for carving out some time, despite his long hours and demanding duties, to be that certain “sombeody” for a child.  A big THANK YOU to all of our volunteer Big Friends for the difference you make!

Our mentoring program service area includes children from: Amesbury, Andover, Boxford, Georgetown, Groveland, Haverhill, Lawrence, Merrimac, Methuen, Newbury, Newburyport, North Andover, Rowley, Salisbury, and West Newbury.  Please consider helping us make our long wait list vanish this season by signing up to be a Big Friend today!  To learn more about the many wonderful children who hope to be paired with an adult mentor, please contact our Big Friends Little Friends program at 978-327-6600.  And, check out one of our other great matches… Omar and Boris.

 

 

Beyond Being a Student

Posted in Community, Mentoring on November 5th, 2018 with No Comments

Success Mentors Back for Second Year in Lawrence Schools

Last autumn at the high energy kickoff of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Success Mentors program at Lawrence High School, both mentors and mentees were asked to share their goals for the coming school year.  “I hope to make my mentee feel like he is cared for as an individual, beyond being a student,” offered one participant.  “I hope to help my mentee accomplish his goals,” the new mentor went on to add.  Intentions such as this, which reflect the whole of a kid’s well being, fuels the program’s success with achievement benchmarks that go well beyond the mentees’ grades.  Angela Keizl, a volunteer mentor in the program, is one shining illustration of the program’s scope.  Throughout the school year Ms. Keizl supports her mentee on the academic front, but alongside that effort she is there to cheer her mentee Marie Carmen on in her personal passion for dance – even accompanying her to her dance classes.  “Through her dance studies, Marie Carmen has gained some much needed self-confidence.  Watching her confidence soar as she throws herself into productions, takes on new creative responsibilities and develops friendships has been for me a profound pleasure.”  On Tuesday afternoon, November 13, the Success Mentors partnership between Lawrence High School and Family Services of the Merrimack Valley will kick-off year two of the program with high hopes for building on the accomplishments of last year.

The Success Mentors partnership between Lawrence High School and Family Services of the Merrimack Valley specifically targets young people identified as being at risk for dropping out of school.  The program matches students with teachers, administrators, and other individuals within the high school who advise the students, providing guidance, motivation and accountability for attending school and staying on track with academic demands.  The mentors also serve as “connectors,” helping to flag challenges causing absenteeism and connecting mentees to appropriate school personnel that would otherwise remain untapped.  “Our goal is to inspire students to attend school every day,” said the school’s Dean of Family & Community Jasmitila Duran, a 2008 graduate of Lawrence High School herself.  Supporting the mentees in other areas of their lives often has proven to be integral in driving that good attendance.

Next week’s year two launch event taking place at Lawrence High School will offer mentors, mentees (and their families) an opportunity to acquaint themselves, establish some match goals, and enjoy dinner together in a supportive setting.  “It was a monumental task to get this Success Mentors program off of the ground last year, and much credit goes out to our Family Services mentoring staff members Leah Feroce and Michelle Martinez for doing so,” commented Family Services’ Chief Executive Officer Liz Sweeney.  “This is a life-changing program, and Family Services is thrilled to continue to lead this effort.”  By pairing students with internal mentors at Lawrence High School, and new this year also at the Arlington Middle School, the Success Mentors program is built to serve as a framework in which these volunteers can have an ongoing presence in the life of their mentee and make a significant impact in their life.  The reciprocal effect of that framework was well put by one Mentor Maria Jarostchuk… “I thought that as a mentor I would spend my time teaching my mentee, and I was so wrong.  I have spent more time learning, as my mentee Surenisha has taught ME so much.”

The Massachusetts (MA) Success Mentors Collaborative is a partnership among three youth mentoring programs in Massachusetts that each serve the three poorest cities in Massachusetts. Led by Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, with the Holyoke Boys & Girls Clubs and Springfield School Volunteers, the MA Success Mentors Collaborative will adopt the practices of the evidence-based “Success Mentors” model, launched by the Obama Administration in 2010, to enhance recruitment, training, and monitoring and support activities to better serve the target population of youth who are currently, or at risk of becoming, chronically absent.  That program quickly became the largest, most comprehensive in-school mentoring effort in the nation within a single city (New York) reaching nearly 10,000 students who were chronically absent or at risk of becoming chronically absent.  Under the “Success Mentors” model students are connected with caring adults who serve as trained and supported motivators, problem solvers, and advocates to form supportive relationships, identify and celebrate student’s strengths, promote their attendance every day, and connect them with the necessary supports to keep them on track and thriving.  Through this system mentors are also “connectors,” helping to flag challenges causing absenteeism and connecting mentees to appropriate school personnel that would otherwise remain untapped. In replicating the “Success Mentors” model, the Collaborative will sub-contract with Mass Mentoring Partnership (MMP) to provide training and technical support.

 

My Name is Noah…

Posted in Mentoring on October 2nd, 2018 with No Comments

There is no greater joy, nor greater reward, than to make a fundamental difference in someone’s life.

Can you spell B A S K E T B A L L?  As in the  game played between two teams of five players in which goals are scored by throwing a ball through a netted hoop fixed above each end of the court?  If so, you just might enjoy the company of nine year old Noah.  The sport happens to be his passion.  His favorite team in the NBA is the Golden State Warriors, and his hero is their Point Guard Stephen Curry – an athlete many people consider the “greatest shooter in NBA history”.  Noah would likely concur with that! 

Noah is one of the over 100 local children awaiting a mentor as part of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends, Little Friends program.  Although he is quick to share his favorites (i.e. color – ORANGE and food – PIZZA), Noah is somewhat reserved when meeting new faces.  An ideal mentor for him would be a younger male – someone that Noah could look to as an “older brother” figure.  An interest in sports, like basketball, would be a huge plus!  However, exposure to new experiences is also a doorway that a mentor could open for Noah.   Advocate Mary Rose McGeady, recognized for her work with homeless youth, once counseled, “there is no greater joy, nor greater reward than to make a fundamental difference in someone’s life.”   Perhaps such joy awaits YOU by becoming Noah’s Big Friend and making an impact on his life trajectory?  To learn more about Noah and the many other wonderful children who hope to be paired with an adult mentor, please contact our Big Friends Little Friends program at 978-327-6600.

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends is a youth mentoring program that matches caring adult mentors with young people who could benefit from a relationship with a positive adult role model. The goal of the program is to develop the positive potential of young people by providing them with support, guidance and friendship.  Serving fifteen towns in the Merrimack Valley, each year our Big Friends Little Friends program matches approximately 100 children with mentors.

Big Friends are caring and responsible people who:

  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions, and like to have fun.
  • Are committed to being a consistent role-model; to their continued mentor training; and to sharing, listening and visiting with their Little Friend.
  • Are able to relate positively and in a meaningful manner to a growing boy or girl.

Little Friends are boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 14 who:

  • Reside in our service area.
  • Have a desire to be in the program and want to have a Big Friend.
  • Have the approval and support of their parents or guardians to participate in the program.
  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions.

Our mentoring program service area includes children from: Amesbury, Andover, Boxford, Georgetown, Groveland, Haverhill, Lawrence, Merrimac, Methuen, Newbury, Newburyport, North Andover, Rowley, Salisbury, and West Newbury.  Please consider helping us make our long wait list vanish this season by signing up to be a Big Friend today!  Check out one of our great matches… Omar and Boris.

 

My Name is BRIANNA

Posted in Mentoring, Uncategorized on September 19th, 2018 with No Comments

Ask ME what it’s like to rescue a dog, and I’ll tell you…

My name is Brianna.  I love French Toast and Flan!  Next month I’m turning 14.  Ask me what it’s like to rescue a dog, and I’ll tell you all about Hazel.  She’s a mixed breed that our family took in from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.  Between Hazel, my younger brother and our new baby sister, our house is full and I don’t get much quiet.  Given that, one of my favorite places to spend time is in my room where I listen to music, do crafts, watch Harry Potter movies… and my favorite television show Supernatural.

I’m hoping to be matched with a Big Friend so that I can share with them my interest in science, photography and interior design.  I am also hoping that having a Big Friend will provide me that chance to be a younger sibling to someone.  As the oldest in my family, I spend a lot of my time helping out with my brother and sister.  Being matched with a mentor might give me a chance for some time away from them and their needs.  Summer is my favorite season, and a perfect day for me (especially in summer time) is taking a trip to a theme park like Six Flags!

If I could have three wishes granted they would be:

  1. Receive a scholarship for college…
  2. Buy my Mom her dream house…
  3. Be given three more wishes!

A Big Friend who enjoys creative projects, conversation, shopping and field trips to new places would make for an ideal match with Brianna.  To learn more about Brianna and the many other wonderful children who hope to be paired with an adult mentor, please contact our Big Friends Little Friends program at 978-327-6600.

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends is a youth mentoring program that matches caring adult mentors with young people who could benefit from a relationship with a positive adult role model. The goal of the program is to develop the positive potential of young people by providing them with support, guidance and friendship.  Serving fifteen towns in the Merrimack Valley, each year our Big Friends Little Friends program matches approximately 100 children with mentors.

Big Friends are caring and responsible people who:

  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions, and like to have fun.
  • Are committed to being a consistent role-model; to their continued mentor training; and to sharing, listening and visiting with their Little Friend.
  • Are able to relate positively and in a meaningful manner to a growing boy or girl.

Little Friends are boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 14 who:

  • Reside in our service area.
  • Have a desire to be in the program and want to have a Big Friend.
  • Have the approval and support of their parents or guardians to participate in the program.
  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions.

Our mentoring program service area includes children from: Amesbury, Andover, Boxford, Georgetown, Groveland, Haverhill, Lawrence, Merrimac, Methuen, Newbury, Newburyport, North Andover, Rowley, Salisbury, and West Newbury.  Please consider helping us make our long wait list vanish this season by signing up to be a Big Friend today!  Check out one of our great matches… Omar and Boris.

 

My Name is Ian…

Posted in Mentoring on July 19th, 2018 with No Comments

Did you know that Theodore (Seuss) Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) was born and raised right here in Massachusetts?  Springfield, to be exact.  That bit of history is just one example of the many facts that 10 year old Ian has to share.  Ian spends much of his free time recreating the illustrations of Dr. Seuss – mostly using a computer.  “One day, I’m going to be an artist,” pronounces he.  A delightful young man about to enter 4th grade, Ian is one of the many children on our Big Friends Little Friends wait list just hoping to be matched with a caring adult.

Like many children of his age, Ian enjoys the recess of summer by taking walks outdoors in nature with his Mom and his older brother Diego.  He also loves swimming, reading books and building things.  Ian is hoping to be matched with a mentor who might serve as a male role model to him – someone with whom he can share his big ideas and love of the arts.  A Big Friend who enjoys creative projects, conversation and trips to museums and libraries would make for an ideal match with Ian.  To learn more about Ian and the many other wonderful children who hope to be paired with an adult mentor, please contact our Big Friends Little Friend program at 978-327-6600.

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends is a youth mentoring program that matches caring adult mentors with young people who could benefit from a relationship with a positive adult role model. The goal of the program is to develop the positive potential of young people by providing them with support, guidance and friendship.  Serving fifteen towns in the Merrimack Valley, each year our Big Friends Little Friends program matches approximately 100 children with mentors.

Big Friends are caring and responsible people who:

  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions, and like to have fun.
  • Are committed to being a consistent role-model; to their continued mentor training; and to sharing, listening and visiting with their Little Friend.
  • Are able to relate positively and in a meaningful manner to a growing boy or girl.

Little Friends are boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 14 who:

  • Reside in our service area.
  • Have a desire to be in the program and want to have a Big Friend.
  • Have the approval and support of their parents or guardians to participate in the program.
  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions.

Our mentoring program service area includes children from: Amesbury, Andover, Boxford, Georgetown, Groveland, Haverhill, Lawrence, Merrimac, Methuen, Newbury, Newburyport, North Andover, Rowley, Salisbury, and West Newbury.  School is in recess.  Summer is upon us – popsicles and swimming and carefree hours in which to wonder.  Wouldn’t it be swell if this were the agenda for all children during this short season?  Mentoring is a terrific way to share such experiences.  Please consider helping us make our long wait list vanish this summer by signing up to be a Big Friend today!  Check out one of our great matches… Omar and Boris.

 

THIS is What Success Looks Like…

Posted in Mentoring on June 18th, 2018 with No Comments

Family Services Salutes Success Mentors in End of the Year Celebration

Everyone here in this room today has learned something from our Success Mentors experience,” reflected Lawrence High School’s Ninth Grade Co-Principal Elijah Heckstall as he opened the festivities at Family Services’ Success Mentors end of the year celebration.  “I hope that you will each take these lessons and turn them into success as you go out into the world.”  Over the past several months, Mr. Heckstall, along with the school’s Dean of Family & Community Jasmitila Duran, have joined forces with Family Services of the Merrimack Valley in launching and administering the Success Mentors program onsite at Lawrence High School.  The end of the year celebration offered the roughly fifty program participants and their families an opportunity to reflect back on their experiences and to salute one another for the mutual wisdom imparted.

The Success Mentors program, which will be executed over two years, specifically targets young people identified as being at risk for dropping out of school.  The program matches students with teachers, administrators, and other individuals within the high school who advise the students, providing guidance, motivation and accountability for attending school and staying on track with academic demands.  The mentors also serve as “connectors,” helping to flag challenges causing absenteeism and connecting mentees to appropriate school personnel that would otherwise remain untapped.  “Our goal is to inspire students to attend school every day,” said Ms. Duran, a 2008 graduate of Lawrence High School herself.

“It was a monumental task to get this new program off of the ground, and much credit goes out to our Family Services mentoring staff for doing so,” commented Family Services’ Chief Executive Officer Liz Sweeney who was also on hand to salute mentors, students and families at the celebration.  “This is a life-changing program.”  By pairing students with internal mentors at Lawrence High School, the Success Mentors program is built to serve as a framework in which these volunteers can have an ongoing presence in the life of their mentee and make a significant impact in their life.  The personal experiences shared publicly (by several students) at the end of the year celebration drove home a sense that this mission was repeatedly accomplished.  What also was evident (as the mentors then took to the stage) was that the impact had wider margins and proved to be quite mutual.  There were few dry eyes in the house when one teacher (Maya Jarostchuk) approached the podium to pay tribute to the student (Surenisha Velasquez) she had mentored.  “Surenisha is a kind, compassionate, sometimes sassy young lady with a deep respect for and love of family.  She has truly turned her life around during our time together.  Not only that, daily, she reminded me to be grateful for the people we have in our life.”  This type of refrain was echoed repeatedly by mentors over the course of the two hour celebratory dinner and presentation of certificates.

“What stood out for me as a mentor, was how intelligent the matches were,” shared Camila, another teacher/mentor in attendance for the Success Mentors end of the year celebration.  “The program coordinators really took great care in pairing us with a student who shared similar interests.  I was matched with Felix (pictured above with his mentor), and we shared a common interest in drawing and the arts, and also in food.  He was new to the school and was somewhat resistant to the program when we met.  I leaned on our common interests and used them as an incentive to help break the ice.”

The Massachusetts (MA) Success Mentors Collaborative is a partnership among three youth mentoring programs in Massachusetts that each serve the three poorest cities in Massachusetts led by Family Services, with the Holyoke Boys & Girls Clubs and Springfield School Volunteers.  The MA Success Mentors Collaborative employs the practices of the evidence-based “Success Mentors” model, launched by the Obama Administration in 2010, to enhance recruitment, training, and monitoring and support activities to better serve the target population of youth who are currently, or at risk of becoming, chronically absent.  That program quickly became the largest, most comprehensive in-school mentoring effort in the nation within a single city (New York) reaching nearly 10,000 students who were chronically absent or at risk of becoming chronically absent.  In replicating the “Success Mentors” model, the Collaborative sub-contracts with Mass Mentoring Partnership (MMP) to provide training and technical support.

A special thank you to our Family Services Mentoring Director Leah Feroce and to our Success Mentors Program Coordinator Michelle Martinez for the important roles they both played in the success of this program.  We are also grateful to our friends at the Eagle Tribune for joining us for this special celebration!  See the Eagle Tribune’s full coverage here.  And, to learn more about Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s mentoring programs, please visit…

 

Mentoring… a Great Way to Share

Posted in Mentoring on June 12th, 2018 with No Comments

We’re here for a reason.  I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends is a youth mentoring program that matches caring adult mentors with young people who could benefit from a relationship with a positive adult role model. The goal of the program is to develop the positive potential of young people by providing them with support, guidance and friendship – to extend to them a “little torch” as Whoopi Goldberg suggests in the quote above.  Serving fifteen towns in the Merrimack Valley, each year our Big Friends Little Friends program matches approximately 100 children with mentors.  As summer approaches, our wait list of children hoping to be matched with a caring adult remains lengthy.  Ninety-eight wonderful kids (roughly seventy-one  boys and twenty-seven girls) look forward to that ally who might shift the trajectory of their life in some way.

Recently, we caught up with a longtime Big Friend and supporter of Family Services, Stephanie Stathe.  While balancing a career and raising her own children, Stephanie made the time to serve as a Big Friend for over 12 years.  In that span she has made a tremendous difference in the lives of the multiple children she has mentored, and stands as a shining example of the shift one person can make in the life of a child.  These days Stephanie has traded in her longtime vocation within the Whole Foods organization to try her hand as a professional gardener where she learns much from her days planted in the natural world…

Can you share with us when and how you became a mentor?
I had read a compelling article in the Boston Globe about Big Brothers Big Sisters looking for mentors.  In the story, the writer stated the success rate for kids with mentors.  At the time, I also had 12 year old male twins who “had everything”.  I thought, as a family, it would be great for us to help out kids not as fortunate.  Shortly thereafter, I was matched with a nine-year old boy Kareem (pictured above right with Stephanie, his friend Junior is at left).   At the time, Kareem’s younger sister Natasha was just two years old.  Eventually, I became a mentor to Natasha  as well.  She was around nine years of age when that match took place.  Her mom was thrilled that we would be together!

There are a thousand ways to give back.  Why mentoring?
Children don’t get to choose their family or economic situation.  Having another role model in their lives can have a big impact…  I’ve seen firsthand how it has benefited both Kareem and Natasha and also many other kids in the program during the thirteen years I have been involved with Big Friends Little Friends.

Can you share any favorite moments or highlights from your experiences with your Little Friends?
Kareem is now an emerging fashion designer headed for great things professionally.  I was in attendance at a recent fashion show of his as the crowd wildly applauded.  He did a terrific job…  And a special Natasha moment was when she shared with me her a straight A report card in junior high school!

Why has the connection with the family endured?
My kids and Kareem and Natasha grew up together, and we became very close over time as a family.

Can you point to something that Kareem and Natasha have taught you?
Kareem and Natasha have taught me that I am fortunate to have them in my life.

In terms of the two hour per week time commitment and how it might give some prospective Big Friends a reason to pause, can you weigh in?
My advice is that it’s best if you can keep to the same time schedule each week.  It can be less stressful for you and also easier for the parents and kids.

In your opinion, why is right now the time to become a mentor to a child?
I think it’s harder to “make it” than it was when I was a kid.  The cost of college and living keep rising, and there are drugs everywhere.  Many kids could use the extra support to succeed in life.

You mentioned a recent career transition to that of a professional gardener.  What does spending so much time outdoors in the natural world teach you?
Plant the seed, nurture and love…

In closing, we also reached out to Kareem for a mentee’s glimpse… 
Stephanie has been a huge part of my life.  She’s like a second mother. We still speak to one another at least three times a week.  She told me that you have to believe in yourself before anyone else will believe in you.  That was a huge lesson for me.

School will soon be in recess.  Summer is upon us – popsicles and swimming and carefree hours in which to wonder.  Wouldn’t it be swell if this were the agenda for all children during this short season?  Mentoring is a great way to share such experiences.  Please consider helping us make our long wait list vanish this summer by signing up to be a Big Friend today!  Check out another of our great matches… Omar and Boris.