Mentors Play an Important Role

Monday, February 2, 2015 | John Hutchings

A homonym is defined as each of two or more words that have the same spelling but different meanings and origins. An exemplification of a homonym occurred on Wednesday, January 28 when a group of people who actively court (try to get/seek) volunteers met in court (building or hall where trials are held, investigations conducted). The group of people were representatives of a number of mentor organizations in Elkhart County and the “hall” was the Elkhart County Juvenile Court. The gathering of these “courters” was the inaugural event of the 2015 HEA Mentor Network Luncheon Series, which brought together the mentor groups with Juvenile Court representatives including Juvenile Magistrate Deborah Domine, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jennifer Munro, Public Defender Kelly Stansbury, and Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Amanda Clabaugh.

The more than 30 mentor representatives in attendance encompassed mentoring to a variety of age groups (from preschoolers to school-age children to teens to young adults to parents) and a panorama of approaches to mentoring (from intense 1:1 mentoring to less intense but still individualized mentoring to working with groups of mentees) and an array of programming models (from activity-based to academic-based and from short-term to long-term services) and a range of purposes (from prevention to intervention).

The Juvenile Court officials did a great job of explaining the operation of the court and clarifying their respective roles and perspectives in the proceedings of the Court. More important, however, was the underlying message of commitment and compassion they conveyed. This is a team of people who are deeply dedicated to helping some of the most challenged and challenging children and youth of Elkhart County. They underscored the balance Juvenile Court is always seeking to achieve in addressing the needs of each juvenile and his/her family while still ensuring community safety.

The Juvenile Magistrate and her Court colleagues emphasized that in order to achieve this balance, it is essential to have complete and accurate information about the whole child, not just the incident(s) that resulted in a Court appearance. That is where mentors and the organizations with which they are affiliated play an important role. They can provide important information and insights based on the relationships they have developed with mentees and their families.

As pointed out by the Court panel, sometimes the only consistent, long-term relationship for a juvenile appearing in Juvenile Court is that with his or her mentor. And many of these juveniles have no mentor. That is where mentor agencies, their staff, and their volunteers can also play a vital role by coming forth to take on a new mentee. This is no easy task, in part because many mentor agencies don’t have the pool of volunteers needed to serve their existing needs. And, as pointed out by a volunteer in the audience, there are many people of good heart who feel inadequate to become mentors, believing they lack prerequisite skills. He encouraged the development of a training program that covers the basics of mentoring. This is an idea that merits further discussion and may be a topic for discussion in a future HEA Mentor Network Luncheon Series event.

Speaking of which, two more events have been scheduled, both to be held from 11:30 to 1:00 at Bashor Childrens Home. The first is on March 26, when Gilberto Perez, Director of Goshen College’s Center for Intercultural and International Education, will be the featured guest in a discussion about mentoring and the Hispanic community. The second will feature Steph Patka, Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County. She will lead discussion regarding safety issues, policies, and practices as they apply to mentees, mentors, and mentor agencies.

If you are interested in becoming a mentor or in being added to the HEA Mentor Network email, please contact HEA at hea@heaindiana.org.