Program highlight: Partners for Youth with Disabilities

Building on our recent interview with Matt Costigan, today's post focuses on mentoring from a program staff member's perspective.

Jeff Lafata is the mentor match specialist at Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD) in Boston.

MMP: Tell us a little bit about your mentoring program and your role.

Jeff: PYD is committed to empowering young people with disabilities to reach their full potential. We do this by providing high quality one-to-one and group mentoring programs for youth as they strive to reach their personal, educational and career goals.

PYD offers a variety of mentoring programs for youth with disabilities such as Mentor Match, Access to Theater and Making Healthy Connections.

PYD’s Mentor Match program serves youth with disabilities between the ages of six and 24 within the Greater Boston area. Youth are paired with a caring adult (some of whom share a similar disability) who serves as a role model and offers support and guidance. Our matches sign on for a one-year commitment that includes weekly contact and 4-6 hours of monthly in-person activities that take place in the community.

The power of mentoring has great effect on both the youth being served and the mentors that are volunteering their time.

MMP: Why do you feel mentoring is important?

Jeff: Studies have shown that mentoring youth can have a powerful and positive impact in reducing substance abuse, improving grades and self-esteem and promoting social and cultural enrichment.

All young people need to be able to have supportive role models in their lives that they can look up to and trust. One of the greatest things that the Mentor Match program brings to its youth is the ability to be matched with a mentor that shares a similar disability.

The friendship and guidance these mentors offer is uniquely powerful. That the mentees can see their own future in their mentors’ success can significantly increase their self-esteem and understanding that their disability does not need to stop them from achieving their goals in life.

MMP: Your program is participating in this year's Red Sox Mentoring Challenge, an initiative designed to recruit more caring Massachusetts adults as mentors. Which Red Sox player do you think is the best mentor on the team?

Jeff: Although the Red Sox team is filled with men that would all be great mentors, if I had to pick one it would be Dustin Pedroia.

Dustin understands what it is like to be told that you will not be able to reach your goals due to circumstances out of one’s control. However, Dustin did not listen and instead he persevered to prove those that doubted him wrong.

Dustin is smaller than most major league baseball players, and this was something that he was made all too aware of as he was growing up and pursuing his dream of the major leagues.

Those in his life told him that he was too small to play baseball but he did not listen, he worked hard and stayed focused on his goal. Not only did he reach his goal and is now playing for the Boston Red Sox, he is also the American League All-Star three years in a row.

He is a great role model for young people when it comes to working hard and pursuing your dreams and passions no matter what others tell you.

MMP: If you have personally been a mentor, tell us what that experience has been like.

Jeff: I am proud to be a mentor through our Mentor Match program. I am a mentor to a 17-year-old young man with Autism and a hearing impairment. Although we have only been matched for six months, our relationship has made a great impact on both of us.

When I first met my mentee, he would not leave his house except to go to school. Now, whenever I show up at his house he is always ready to go out for a fun activity.

Since being matched we have been able to go to the zoo, Museum of Fine Arts and the movies, along with just walking around his community, playing video games and enjoying smoothies in the Arboretum. These fun activities have helped him to come out of his shell and learn more about his community.

When we talk about the power of mentoring, we always hear how great it is for the youth but so often people forget to share the great effect it has on the mentor as well. My relationship with my mentee has had a great impact on my life. I am lucky to learn just as much from him as I am hoping that he learns from me. It is an amazingly mutual relationship of growth and understanding.

The one thing I would want potential mentors to understand is that the time commitment is small but the benefits for both of you are immeasurable.

MMP: How can people learn more about mentoring opportunities with your organization?

Jeff: If anyone is interested in learning more about our Mentor Match program or becoming a mentor, they can go to our web site www.pyd.org or contact me anytime at 617-556-4075 ext. 18 or mentormatch@pyd.org.