Worcester Youth & Family Program Seeks Mentors

Worcester Youth & Family Program Seeks Mentors
Photo by Bethany Hooper

BERLIN – A local agency is seeking volunteers for a youth mentoring program.

As Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services continues to assist local children and teens through its Worcester Connects program, it is also seeking volunteers to serve as youth mentors.

Worcester Connects Director Kayla Figueroa said the program supports struggling students by pairing them with adults who match with their interests and needs.

“When children enter our program, it’s a year-long program,” she said. “The hope is to have a mentor that we can pair with kids to give them a one-on-one experience, which has been difficult.”

Roughly three years ago, Worcester Youth and Family launched Worcester Connects, a youth mentoring program designed to help students who need a positive role model in their lives. Kids in grades 1-12 are referred to the program, matched with a volunteer mentor, and participate in both individual and group mentor activities.

“Most of these kids, you’ll find, have their own niche,” Figueroa explained. “One of our mentors plays basketball with her kid because that’s the only thing the mentee wants to do … Or we partner with the Ocean City Art League. They have been fantastic and offer free events there.”

But Figueroa said Worcester Connects is in need of volunteers – particularly men – to participate in its youth mentoring program. Of the 22 students who have been referred to the program, six teen boys are currently waiting to be paired with a mentor.

“I think there’s a fear or stigma that comes along with it,” she acknowledged. “We only ask the mentors to meet with the kids at least twice a month. It’s not that big of a commitment, but it can be scary to pair with a kid that’s not yours and hang out with them.”

Figueroa said participation is simple. Mentors must be at least 18 years old and must complete a background check and online training.

“We say it takes about two hours, but it can be done faster and is self-paced,” she explained. “It pretty much explains how to connect with the family and how to set boundaries, different tools you don’t think you need until you need them.”

Once a volunteer has been screened, they are paired with a Worcester County student, focusing on their strengths and interests through twice-monthly meetings.

Figueroa said these outings can take place anywhere – with a guardian’s permission – and can take however long is needed. Worcester Connects also directs mentors to free community events and offers free monthly activities, such as bowling nights, Shorebirds games and movie theater outings.

“It gives them a few experiences they might not have otherwise,” she explained. “It also gets them out of the house.”

Figueroa said mentors are asked to commit to the program for at least one year.

She said those interested in volunteering can attend Worcester Connects’ next movie night, held Feb. 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services office in Berlin.

“I tell people if they are interested but aren’t sure, come and hang out and see how not scary it is,” she said.

For more information on Worcester Connects, or to volunteer to become a mentor, visit gowoyo.org/worcester-connects, or contact Kayla Figueroa at 410-641-4598 ext. 112 or email [email protected].

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.