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May 11, 2010 > Mentors making a difference

Mentors making a difference

By Alyson Whitaker

All photos courtesy of OreMi Mentoring

An estimated 856,000 children in California have a parent currently involved in California's adult criminal justice system. Whether in state prison, county jail, or on probation, parents dealing with the aftermath of a crime are often unable to provide the care and attention needed by their children. The needs of these children vary greatly. It may be help with homework, a chance to get out of the house, exposure to new opportunities and experiences, assistance in developing social skills, or just having someone who can lend a listening ear.

OreMi Mentoring is a local organization working to bridge the gap between an incarcerated parent and the child or children left behind. The organization was started by Lou Fox and Judy Levin 20 years ago after the Children's Home Society announced that they were closing their respite program. They saw a great need for mentoring services, and started the OreMi Mentoring program. Now going on its 6th year, OreMi creates and supports mentoring relationships between people in the community and children who have an incarcerated parent. Serving children ages 4-18 in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, the organization currently has 50 matched relationships and another 50 children on a waiting list hoping to be matched with a mentor.

One such "match" is mentor Dan and mentee Daniel, who have been together for about a year and a half. Daniel lives with his elderly grandmother, who has debilitating arthritis. Despite her limited mobility, she somehow has the stamina to parent and raise a pre-teen boy. Daniel takes on many household responsibilities, but doesn't have many opportunities to get out of the house. His grandmother struggled with keeping his motivation up for school. While in 5th grade, Daniel was matched up with his mentor, Dan. Over the course of their first year together, mentee Daniel improved his grades and his attendance at school. Mentor Dan has gone above and beyond the basic program requirements, meeting with Daniel twice a week rather than just once. They do homework together on Tuesday evenings, and then do something fun on the weekend.

Both Dan and Daniel have grown and benefitted from their time together. Daniel has a positive male role model in his life, someone to help him realize his potential and encourage him to set and reach high goals. Mentor Dan also greatly enjoys the time they spend together, and he has been inspired by the changes he has seen in Daniel over the last eighteen months.

Finding qualified mentors can be tough. There is a strict application process, including a background check for all mentors entering the program. Based on the mentors' time availability, skills, and personality, they are then matched with a child in the program.

OreMi is continually seeking new mentors, in the hopes of broadening their program to include more children. Boys are referred to the program more often than girls, so there is a greater need for male mentors. Teen boys are the most challenging to match, and there aren't as many men applying for mentor roles.

The basic requirements are:
Must have a genuine interest in being a positive role model to a child
Must be at least 18 years of age
Must be able to commit to 1 hour per week for a minimum of one year
Must complete a 5-hour mentor training program
Must clear a background check

Through positive experiences like those in a mentoring program, the hope is that children of incarcerated parents will have opportunities to develop and foster a healthy relationship and have someone to look up to and rely on.

Children who receive mentoring services are less likely to use illegal drugs and alcohol, have fewer teen pregnancies and fewer arrests. They are more trusting of their parent or guardian, earn higher grades, are more likely to go to college, and develop greater self-esteem and self-reliance.

OreMi Mentoring
Contact: Program Coordinator, Hannah Danto
(510) 834-2443, ext. 3033

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