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Mentors, spread too thin, help Utah County youth

By Stephanie Grimes | Posted - Nov 7th, 2011 @ 3:02pm

SPRINGVILLE -- An increase in the number of at-risk youth in Utah Country has left a mentoring program short on what is important: mentors.

The Safety Net Mentor Program is 100 mentors short of what is needed to continue to provide service to a number of Utah County youth labeled as "at risk" -- those 10- to 18-year-olds who are in danger of becoming involved with Juvenile Justice Services.

Safety Net currently has 100 mentors paired with Utah County youth. Without additional volunteers, though, some of those children may begin to slip through the cracks.

"Many of our mentors have graduated or moved away," Karla Sedillo, director of Safety Net Mentor Program, said. "We are always in need of new volunteers; we never want to turn a kid away. The more mentors we can get, the better off our community will be."

Information Meeting
  • 3238 WSC, BYU
  • Tuesday, Nov. 8
  • 7 p.m.

The organization has a waiting list of 60 children in need of a mentor, all of whom "are in need of a positive role model who will help them to get their life back on track," according to Nick Barnes, a Safety Net spokesman.

"Programs like this one are important because the youth are the future of the area," he added. "They're going to run businesses, go to school, and raise families. If they don't have positive influences, they're not going to contribute to the environment in a positive way."

The Safety Net Mentor Program was founded in 1999 as the Slate Canyon Mentor Program and has been successful over the past decade due to private donations and a small army of volunteers that understand the need for such a program.

"It's important to get these kids out of the house and having positive social experiences," said Matthew Lowe, a mentor. "These are really good kids, but they haven't had a whole lot of access to environments that would let them flourish socially and academically."

It's important to get these kids out of the house and having positive social experiences.

–Matthew Lowe

"Adolescence is hard for everyone, but a lot of these kids are not in situations where they can grow and develop as people."

Lowe has been a mentor for a 13-year-old boy for the past year. Like the program's other mentors, he commits to spending at least one hour a week with a mentee for at least a year. He said the experience has been enlarging.

"It has helped me look beyond myself and understand what life can be like for people in different circumstances," Lowe said. "He has given me a different perspective. It's been inspiring to see change in him."

Lowe said his mentee went from a 13-year-old who cared only about basketball and chasing his NBA dream to a young man who, while not giving up his dreams, now cares more about succeeding academically and forming healthy social relationships.

"It has been very encouraging to see the change in him," he said. "He has a different outlook on life now that he has been shown how his relationships, his home -- how he can be different."

"These kids really don't have positive role models in their lives," he continued. "To see the influence those home environments can have on a kid -- it doesn't predict a very positive future for them."

Requirements of mentor program
  • Completion of application form
  • Provision of copy of driver's license
  • Provision of Social Security Card or Passport
  • Provision of proof of automobile liability insurance
  • Two reference forms, available at orientation
  • A fingerprint card, which can be done in campus security offices or local Police Station
  • Personal interview
  • Orientation and attendance at inservice training
  • Minimum of one direct contact with youth weekly, plus a mentor report, sent on the web site mentor report form
  • Minimum commitment of one year
Courtesy of Safety Net.

That is the goal of Safety Net: provide positive role models to help troubled youths become successful and productive adults.

"Each child in this community deserves a responsible and concerned adult who will provide guidance and support, help set and accomplish goals and act as a positive role model," according to the organization's mission statement.

Part of being a mentor is simply giving youths the opportunity to experience "normal" childhood activities, according to Lowe.

"Sometimes we play basketball, or practice guitar," he said. "We've gone to Lagoon before and we're going to a BYU football game this season. Of course, there is always the more mentor-like aspect -- talking to him about his life -- but we have fun, too."

The relationship formed between mentor and mentee can be the most rewarding aspect of a mentorship. When his mentee's family thought about moving, Lowe said the boy did not want to move "partly because he's really appreciated the relationship we have developed and would miss seeing and hanging out with me every week."

"It is an act of service but it becomes so much more than that," he said. "You're mentoring them but what that means is you're having fun, and helping them grow and see the need for change in their lives."

Lowe hopes the program will attract more volunteers as people begin to understand the change they can effect by giving one hour of their week to a troubled youth.

"There are things we can do to help kids get off to a better start when circumstances at home are not so great," he said. "There are a lot of kids who can really benefit from this."

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