It has been a busy week, but one of the highlights was jumping into my car and heading off on a two hour drive to meet the Coordinator of another youth mentoring program. GR8 MATES is modelled on the Plan-it Youth program which this Coordinator is involved with. I had been encouraged to meet up with her quite some time ago, but decided not to until the first GR8 MATES program was well under way. I reasoned that then we would have things to talk about, I would have heaps more pertinent questions to ask and, possibly, I could also share some of my experiences 🙂
I arrived at one of the host schools to link up with her, just in time to say ‘hello’ to the departing group of mentors. The program has about 8 – 12 mentors in each of the 14 schools where it operates. What I didn’t know until after the mentors had departed was that this particular group had just had a very tough session, as one of the mentors had been knocked over by a motor vehicle the previous weekend and had died from the injuries sustained.
How had this been handled by the school and the Coordinator? Well, the mentors had gathered together a little earlier at the school. The mentee, accompanied by a friend, had joined these mentors and, together, they had held a minute’s silence, remembering the mentor and had a brief time of sharing positives about her as well. The mentee has been offered counselling etc. by the school and will participate in the end of program celebration should she wish to do so. If her parents allowed her to attend the funeral she would do so as well. I was touched by the empathetic way the Coordinator and this team of mentors had offered such immediate support to this young girl. While this untimely death had thrown all the well-laid out plans of the Coordinator, she had accepted that it was a priority, had to sort out the program’s involvement in the funeral and would get back to her other work once this was all sorted. A great example to me of how to deal with a similar situation which no mentor coordinator would wish on anyone.

We had a fantastic couple of hours and, rather selfishly, as I said to her, this was perfect timing for me. GR8 MATES now has three programs operating, nine more schools want to run the program and I will not be able to launch one more program without making some changes. While I picked away at her program with question after question, she willingly shared with me all her relevant experiences. Most important she shared ideas as to how the program could expand with the use of volunteers. As already mentioned, she has programs operating in 14 schools, developed over six years, and uses volunteers extensively to manage and run the programs in these different schools. The School Coordinator clearly has a very important role to play and, as we all know, without the Principal’s support, no program is likely to be long-lasting.

I was advised to be careful about who I allow to do the training and to make sure that the participating schools are fully aware of their commitments before deciding to participate. Obviously she can’t do everything and the schools have to know that from the beginning. She likes them to feel self-empowering in the partnership, though I might not adopt that approach, as GR8 MATES is still new and our Policies and Procedures are still being worked on, so we can write more specifics into the program at this point.

It was also made clear to me the urgency of setting up our Steering Committee so that I did not have to feel overwhelmed by the task at hand. She had come close to burn-out twice already and was learning how to let her Committee make decisions in the knowledge that she simply cannot do everything! It sounded as if her Committee was a relatively new addition to the program and is still a ‘work in progress’.

So, I drove home with plenty to think about. Next day, as I opened my emails at the office, there was one from one of the local Neighborhood Centres I have been working with in recent months, suggesting we get together to discuss the composition of the Steering Committee and how they might be able to assist. Perfect timing!!

Not being one who likes reinventing the wheel, I was enormously grateful that another Coordinator from a well-established program was happy to share with me. We have agreed to keep in touch. Of course, the day after I had met with her I had a further list of questions to ask. We will be talking again tomorrow :-), this time by phone.

And, in case you think I was just taking, taking, taking – not true! I left her with a copy of our Policies and Procedures on the understanding that it is still a ‘work in progress’ – she seemed interested in adapting our Mentor Log sheet for her program – as well as some of my published material.