Editor’s note: Let’s lift January! The holidays are over, but goodwill doesn’t have to end. Reporters Karen Bjornland and Kelly de la Rocha seek expert advice this month on ways to brighten lives through simple acts of kindness. They’ll put what they learn into action and report on their efforts each Saturday in The Gazette.
Fishing in a lake, going to the library or a movie, helping with homework. Or just walking down the street and stopping for an ice cream cone.
At Saratoga Mentoring, adults volunteer to spend a few hours each week with a child whose life is impacted by poverty or other challenges.
“Every match is so different in what they decide to do,” says Saratoga Mentoring program director Brenda Jensen.
In the organization’s cozy second-floor headquarters in downtown Saratoga Springs, there’s a wall of smiling faces, as each mentor is photographed with his or her child after they are matched.
This January, which happens to be National Mentoring Month, Jensen has 39 adults matched with a child or teen from age 8 to 18.
Because Skidmore College has a long relationship with Saratoga Mentoring, 21 of those matches are Skidmore students.
The 18 nonstudent mentors are working adults and retirees that range in age from their 30s to 60s.
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Have you been the recipient of a surprise act of kindness? Have you done a good deed recently? Let us know about it. Select stories may be published in an upcoming issue of the Gazette.
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The number of children needing mentors always exceeds available volunteers, says Jensen, and there’s an urgent need for men who are willing to mentor boys.
“I only have a couple of men,” says Jensen. “There are so many boys on my waiting list. I take referrals but I don’t like to go out and meet too many of them and get their hopes up.”
Jensen, a social worker, says the benefits of this program are “across the board.”
Grades go up at school and so does attitude and self-esteem.
“Sometimes there’s a difference in the way the kids carry themselves because someone cares enough to spend time with them and is interested in what they have to say,” she says.
“Most of the people we serve are living in poverty, and the culture of poverty is such that the children are often isolated. Some of them don’t have great attendance at school so they are struggling academically. They are struggling socially. Their families tend to keep them close to home. They are not involved in after-school programs. They are sitting in front of a TV,” she says.
One child, a 15-year-old boy, came from a family that didn’t have a vehicle.
“He got in his mentor’s truck and he was like ‘Omigosh, I forgot what it feels like to be in a car.’ He hadn’t sat in a vehicle in years and years,” Jensen says.
“If nothing else, it’s showing the kids that there are good, caring people out there, and there’s more than one way to live.”
- Mentors make a one-year commitment. Some matches go on for a few years, some last for several years.
- Saratoga Mentoring is a program of Catholic Charities and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, but mentors are of many faiths and beliefs. “No way do you have to be Catholic or Christian,” says Jensen.
- Children and adults from Saratoga Mentoring, which started 23 years ago, painted many of the colorful outdoor murals in Saratoga Springs.
- Interested in becoming a mentor? Go to saratogamentoring.org, send an email to [email protected] or phone Brenda at 581-1487.