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Mentor volunteers needed

By Staff | May 8, 2015

It is always a very happy occasion when parents who have been involved with the Child Welfare system are re-unified with their children.

It can also be a very stressful one, and that’s where those who have a need to help others and volunteer can provide a valuable service as a mentor.

The United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades, and Okeechobee Volunteer Center launched a new Family Mentor Program in February, and is partnering with the Children’s Network of Southwest Florida to recruit volunteer mentors who will be trained and matched with parents who have been involved in the Child Welfare system and are ready to be re-unified with their children.

Patrice Cunningham, Special Projects manager for the United Way, said they are specifically acquiring mentors to work with the parents, which is different from other programs that focus more on the children.

“The reintroduction process is stressful for the children and the parent, we’re finding. This is a support system for the parent,” Cunningham said. “In mentoring anyone we’re looking for their strengths. These are young parents. They don’t have the village. They’re along and isolated and working to get their kids back. The mentor is there to listen, be supportive and share their life skills.”

Recruitment has been strong, with more than two dozen mentors trained. But with roughly 60 families a month being reunified, there is still a great need, Cunningham said, adding that the goal is to have more than 200 mentors by the end of the year.

“We’ve worked with Hodges University and got a few mentors from there. We’ve heard from the Kiwanis Club, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and worked with several newspapers,” said Maureen Coble, family mentor program coordinator of the Children’s Network of Southwest Florida. “Once they get the volunteers, we do a Level 2 background check and provide them training.”

An ideal family mentor will be one who can be non-judgmental, offer a minimum of an hour a week (for roughly three to six months) to work together with the parents.

One mentor from Cape Coral, whose name is being withheld because of the sensitive nature of these cases, said mentoring is a rewarding experience.

“I can come in and be more of a friend and confidant, helping them through their worries and figure out goals for the families,” the mentor said. “I have two teenaged kids. I can look back when my children were younger and thought back to where I thought I made mistakes and share them.”

The next two-day training sessions will be on Tuesday, May 12 and Thursday, May 14 from 5 to 8:30 p.m., and will cover the areas of safety, confidentiality, planning for success, family engagement, plus an overview of the child welfare system.

To register to become a mentor or request additional information, contact Cunningham at Patrice@UnitedWayLee.org or 433-2000 ext. 272.

Future training classes will be announced and posted on the website at www.UnitedWayLee.org/volunteer