Are you a good role model? Are you understanding and dependable? Are you caring, patient and a good listener? If you answered yes to most of these questions, then you are a good candidate to become a mentor for the new elementary Connections Mentoring Program.
The program - a collaboration of the Storm Lake schools, CommUNITY Education, Northwest Iowa Drug Treatment Unit (NWIADTU) and the Buena Vista Regional Medical Center - is designed to match up a select group of students with adults who are willing to give 60-90 minutes per week during the after school program.
The purpose of the program is to "encourage positive youth development by connecting community partners and elementary students in caring and supportive relationships in a school-based setting."
Cindy Johnson of the prevention department at NWIADTU obtained a grant from the Iowa Department of Health, division of Health Promotion, Prevention and Addictive Behaviors, to help develop the program. The funds will be used for a staff member (Cindy Johnson) to help in training, marketing, matching, monitoring, coaching and consulting services for the school-based mentoring program in Storm Lake.
"We are asked periodically what Substance Abuse Prevention has to do with mentoring," said Cindy. "The answer is simple. Substance Abuse Prevention is proactive. We don't want people of any age to experience problems related to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Our job is to empower people and systems to create and reinforce conditions that promote healthy behaviors and lifestyles."
The Connections Mentoring Program is new to Storm Lake but not to the state. The concept is similar to the Big Brothers/Big Sisters programs - in fact their organizations have shared willingly information.
Persons wishing to become mentors should call or stop by the CommUNITY Education office in the Storm Lake Community Schools Administration Building at 419 Lake Ave. An application must be filled out, asking such information as interests and hobbies. A reference and background check will be completed. An interview will be set up and a short orientation and training session are the next steps.
Though it sounds involved, the fun will begin after this time - the mentor is matched up to a student that has also filled out an application and shares some of the same interests.
The students to take part in the program are referred by the school or family for a variety of reasons. Examples might be if the student is showing a lack of self-esteem or if there are academic, socialization or behavioral concerns.
The mentors and the students they have been matched with will meet after school at the school he or she attends.
There is a great need for mentors, Cowan said, adding there are about 350 elementary kids who take part in the after school program.
She added that the mentors shouldn't feel overwhelmed about how to "entertain" his or her mentees. "There will be lots of resources and lots of activities available." As the adult and child becomes acquainted with each other, they will come to know what activities they want to do together - whether it be playing a game, reading, reviewing for a test, working on a craft or just sitting together to talk - all on a one-to-one basis.
There is no expense involved to the mentors. The focus of the program is quality time spent together.
There are currently seven mentors who have applied for spots in the new program; matches should be made by the end of the month.
High school or college students may also apply for these mentoring spots.
"Researched mentoring programs demonstrate increased academic success, increased ability to make healthy choices, decreased drug abuse and decreased negative behaviors for youth," concluded Cindy.
"Mentors who model healthy lifestyles impact youth through building strong, long-term relationships. Mentored youth have greater chances of navigating into he rough waters of life. Many young people today are looking for that special someone to gain support, guidance and structure on their lives."
* Contact Pat Cowen at CommUNITY Education (732-5711) or Cindy Johnson at 749-5169 for more information.