BERLIN – Officials at Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services are seeking male volunteers to participate in the agency’s Worcester Connects mentoring program.
Nearly 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. Now, officials are seeking volunteers – particularly men – who can spend time with a mentee.
“No one really realizes it, but everyone has a mentor in their life in one way or another, whether it’s a coach or a parent or somebody in your family,” said Worcester Connects Director Kayla Figueroa. “Everyone had someone to get them to where they are at. That’s what we are giving these kids.”
Each year, kids in grades 1-12 are referred to the Worcester Connects program, matched with a volunteer mentor, and participate in both individual and group mentor activities.
Since its inception, the program has grown from 10 participants to 30. But officials say they now have 16 kids on the waitlist. Eleven of them are boys who are looking for a male mentor.
“It really does make a difference,” said Volunteer Supervisor Ryan Foley. “It can be the difference for a kid going down one path versus the other.”
Figueroa said kids can be referred to Worcester Connects for a variety of reasons, though many come for social interactions outside of home or school. She said the program provides students with a mentor who can spend time with them twice a month.
“It’s really pairing a student with a volunteer from the community,” she explained. “The mentors are required to see their kid at least twice a month, whether it’s picking them up and going to lunch, hanging out at the house, taking a walk around the park. And we also offer group events that are free to the families.”
Participation is simple, officials say. Mentors must be at least 18 years old and must complete a background check and online training. Once a volunteer has been screened, they are paired with a Worcester County student, focusing on their strengths and interests through twice-monthly meetings.
“Something that really changes kids is when you have an adult in your life that cares about you just to care about you,” Foley said. “They have no other incentive, and that’s really what this is.”
Monthly outings can take place anywhere with a guardian’s permission. Worcester Connects also directs mentors to free community events and offers free monthly family activities such as bowling nights, Shorebirds games and movie theater outings, all made possible through the generous support of community businesses.
“We like to get the entire family involved,” Figueroa said, “because if they are comfortable hanging out with us, then the kids are more comfortable and more likely to show up.”
Officials say those interested in volunteering with Worcester Connects can call Worcester Youth and Family at 410-641-4598, or email Kayla Figueroa at [email protected] or Ryan Foley at [email protected]
“It’s fun in my opinion,” Figueroa said. “It’s a good way to give back, it’s a good way to get involved in the community, and if you don’t have anything to do this weekend, why not hang out with a kid? … I feel like it just makes you feel good about yourself, especially when you see the connections that you make with the kids.”