Wednesday, January 30, 2013
COLLEGE PLACE — Julie Nordgren welcomed several new volunteers to Davis Elementary on Tuesday and in time for a busy lunch. Students who had been waiting to be matched with a mentor enjoyed their first lunch with a new friend.
As coordinator of the Friends ABC Program at Davis, Nordgren handles the interviews and paperwork that help bring about the heart of the program, which is pairing students with “a caring, consistent adult.”
Yet for all the volunteers showing up Tuesday, Nordgren says there is still great need for positive adult role models to be matched with children at the school.
She pointed to a table where Walla Walla University student Manuel Rodriguez had just met and sat down with a second-grade boy and his friends. The conversation quickly turned to soccer, with the young man and boys talking in Spanish.
“I’ve interviewed them but I don’t think I’ll be able to find them matches,” Nordgren said about the other boys. “Male volunteers are harder to come by.”
Despite a year with greater than expected numbers of volunteers taking part, the Friends program at Davis could still use more mentors, a trend that is true of all mentoring programs serving Walla Walla Valley’s children in need, leaders say.
January is National Mentoring Month, and the Walla Walla Mentoring Coalition is hosting a community event Thursday to raise awareness about local mentoring opportunities. The free event starts at 6:30 p.m. at Whitman College’s Maxey Auditorium, and will include information on groups in the Mentoring Coalition. A keynote address, featuring Teri Barila and Mark Brown of the Children’s Resilience Initiative, will start at 7 p.m. and focus on adverse childhood experiences research.
Brown said his work with the Children’s Resilience Initiative, and his understanding of ACEs research, has reinforced how important it is for youth to have trusting adult relationships.
“The premier building block of resilience is safe, consistent relationship with a caring adult,” Brown said. Yet not all children in the valley have such relationships with adults.
“We always, all of us (in the coalition), need more adult volunteers,” he said. “We never run out of kids. We’ve always got kids waiting, particularly boys. I think for all of the programs.”
The Walla Walla Mentoring Coalition formed about three years ago as a way to bring together mentoring programs in the valley. Today, the coalition represents six groups that are bringing positive adult mentors to community youth. Coalition groups are: Friends of Children of Walla Walla, Children’s Home Society, Trilogy Recovery Community, YoungLives (of YoungLife), START Mentoring and Whitman College’s Student Engagement Center.
The agencies are reaching at-risk youth throughout the community, whether it is Whitman and Walla Walla University students visiting the public schools, or adults working with teen moms through YoungLives, or meeting with youths in the Juvenile Justice Center through START Mentoring.
“All share that kind of sense that an adult working with a kid is a major piece of … building resilience in our children,” Brown said.
“That’s the kind of thing we can do together. We get more done, and have more power, in terms of visibility and kinds of practices that we use, if we work together.”