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Monday, January 29, 2007

Volunteers Needed for Mentor Program

By Jennifer Connic

A few caring, patient people are needed to help mentor Westport students.

Patti Haberstroh, who oversees the Westport Mentor Program, said the program has grown tremendously in the four years she has been in charge, and she is in a real need for mentors to work with young boys who have single moms.

“These moms do a great job raising their children, but once they hit puberty they want a male voice in their lives,” she said.

She has four elementary-school-aged boys who need male mentors, she said, but she has no one to match them.

Finding male mentors for Westport students has been one of the challenges for Habsterstroh in running a program that she says is more rewarding than she ever imagined.

“The power of a mentor is stronger than anything I have ever dreamed,” she said. “These are relationships that last through high school and even beyond.”

The mentor meets with the Westport student one time per week at school for as little as 30 minutes, she said, and there are no judgments made about homework or behavior.

“Our mentors say they get more out of it than the kids do,” she said.

The children who are sent to the program by the schools, which sponsors the program, are the type who may need another adult in their lives to provide a constant presence.

“(The child) may be acting out in some way,” she said. “They could have a family situation at home.”

There are currently 45 Westport students in the program, Haberstroh said.

Included are the Bridgeport students who attend Westport schools through Project Choice, she said.

“Some of the kids face face significant issues,” she said.

But the children always warm up to having a mentor although the mentors may worry about the reaction, Haberstroh said.

“Some of our mentors may think there is a stigma to have an adult mentor, but it’s the opposite,” she said. “(The child) will strut through school showing off their mentor.”

The program could always use more male mentors, Haberstroh said.

“The schools hesitate to send us new kids, especially boys, because they know we can’t fill the slots,” she said. “Men seem to feel they are not qualified. They feel like they can’t add anything.”

Those who are mentors are “caring, patient” people who have all sorts of backgrounds, she said.

Some mentors have young children of their own, Haberstroh said, but some have children who are older and out of school.

One woman mentor has a grandson who lives on the west coast and wanted someone to mentor who was the same age as her grandson, she said.

“She wanted to live with the development so she could understand her grandson,” she said. “It turns out they have the same exact birthdate and they’ve been together for four years.”

Those who want to be involved with the program can call Haberstroh at the Human Services Department at (203) 341-1050.

People who become mentors fill out a form, are fingerprinted for a background check and go through a 45-minute one-on-one training.

They must commit to working with the child every week, Haberstroh said, because the students need the person to be there.

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Posted 01/29/07 at 09:11 PM  Permalink



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