Walla Walla Mentoring Coalition seeks to boost ranks of mentors

The newly formed Walla Walla Mentoring Coalition says demand in the area always outstrips supply.

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National hot tea month.

Eye care, soup, staying healthy, blood donor, Braille literacy, hobby, oatmeal month.

January, like every other month, is overflowing with observances decreed by any number of organizations. Many we are never aware of, others we immediately forget.

There's one day, however, a handful of folks here would like everyone to remember.

January is "National Mentoring Month," and it's more than a slogan on a bumper sticker, says a recently formed mentoring coalition in Walla Walla.

A mentor is defined as a trusted guide or counselor; coach, tutor and supporter fits, as well. Whatever the word choice, more are sought to fill the needs of this community -- thus the Walla Walla Mentoring Coalition, to bring heads together to help fill that gap, which widens by the day.

Regardless of how thoroughly the benefits of mentoring are documented, it's almost always this way, experts say -- the need exceeds the supply. "How ever many volunteers we can get, that's how many we can use," said Mark Brown, executive director of Friends.

He sees the need every day, noted Chris Drabek, principal of Davis Elementary School in College Place. Kids that need mentoring typically have already experienced some kind of trauma. And the economic downturn has been an unwelcome visitor to plenty of students' homes, tracking through the door higher levels of stress for parents.

In his sixth year as the school's principal, this is the worst he has seen it, Drabek said today. "Our free and (reduced-price) lunch has increased about 15 percent. We're now at about 70 percent."

Even more telling is a dramatic increase in students acting out at school, Drabek said, and that is where mentoring make a big impact. Davis Elementary has 42 mentor matches at the moment and Drabek counts himself lucky to be right next to Walla Walla University campus. While the mentors come from all walks of life, his school gets a healthy infusion from the college, both through students and staff.

And his own parents, the principal laughed. "They thought they were going to retire."

Mentor statistics here mirror the national picture, said Lina Menard, coordinator of Whitman College Center for Community Service. "More women than men volunteer."

Her program pairs about 175 Whitman students with an equal number of elementary students in six elementary and two middle schools in the area. For many of the mentors, the work is so rewarding they coach with the same child the entire time they are at the college.

Data and feedback show mentored kids get a tremendous boost in self-esteem, confidence and the ability to trust, plus improve their grades and school attendance records, Brown said.

While the "Boost!" mentoring program at Children's Home Society of Washington has its volunteer mentor slots filled for the moment, it's Home Team program that coaches parents of at-risk families always needs fresh faces, said regional director Richard Pankl.

With a wish to pair every child or family who needs one with a volunteer mentor, the Walla Walla Mentoring Coalition represents the first time separate local agencies are officially huddling to trade information, visions and progress.

The hope is to raise awareness of mentoring needs and opportunities, Brown said. A media campaign is under way to do just that and perhaps grow the concept. Because mentoring provides so much good to all parties involved, it's possible the coalition will expand over time to include more adult and family mentoring, he added.

There's more than one mentoring program and style to choose from locally:

Friends of Children of Walla Walla

Launched in 1999, the agency has paired up about 450 kids with adult "friends." The agency's community-based mentoring model is characterized by one-to-one pairing of child and adult volunteer; the duo does a variety of activities at least once a week. Volunteers, who undergo screening and training, commit to a year in the program.

The agency also has a school-based opportunity, in which the adult meets with his or her "friend" on school grounds during school hours, often sharing a lunch together. The commitment period is one school year. This program is a collaborative effort between the agency and the College Place Public School District.

For more information about Friends of Children of Walla Walla call 527-4745.

Children's Home Society of Washington

The agency's "Home Team" program uses parent aides who develop relationships with parents in at-risk families to become part of a family's safety net. Parent aides go into homes to offer help on a number of issues surrounding raising children. The program requires a minimum commitment of one hour a week.

The "BOOST!" mentoring program is designed to help high-need students in grades four-eight reach academic goals.

For more information about Children's Home Society of Washington call 529-2130.

Whitman College Mentor Program

This program matches Whitman students with local elementary- and middle-school kids for a one-on-one friendship through a school-based mentoring program. It requires a one-time-a-week commitment.

For more information call Lina Menard at 527-5765.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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