Program highlight: SMILES

January is National Mentoring Month, and we are highlighting a number of perspectives on mentoring, events, and ways you can get involved in the field. Today’s post, a program highlight, is submitted from SMILES.

Please give us some information about your program.
The goal of SMILES (SouthCoast Mentoring Initiative for Learning, Education, and Service) is to help at-risk youth realize their personal and educational potential through a large-scale one-to-one mentoring program. My name is Heidi Bedard and I am the director of SMILES, a program of People, Incorporated. SMILES mentoring programs take place within the school building, during the school day. Our goal is to provide each school with effective, low-maintenance mentoring programs that serve to improve outcomes of those students who participate. SMILES staff are present during each mentoring session and provide all of the necessary materials to host the mentoring program, including age-appropriate reading materials and activities for students and their mentors.

SMILES mentees are referred to the program by school personnel for a variety of reasons. Each mentee is unique, but all share the need to have a positive adult mentor in their life. Mentees receive a program orientation to ensure they want to be in the program and will actively participate in their mentoring relationship.

SMILES mentors make a commitment to meet with their mentee for one school year (typically September – June). At the end of the initial year, mentors are surveyed to determine if they would like to continue mentoring the same child next school year. The vast majority of our mentors choose to continue their mentoring relationship because of the connection that they have made with their mentee.

SMILES staff provide support to mentors and mentees on a regular basis in order to ensure that all needs are being met and that mentoring is a wonderful experience for everyone involved.

How does mentoring impact the communities you serve?
SMILES has a strong working relationship with the Fall River and New Bedford school systems, as well as with many schools in the surrounding towns. In today’s economy, high school graduation is imperative. Based on recent statistics, youth in our community are at a high risk of dropping out of school. SMILES, along with many other mentoring programs in the SouthCoast, aim to decrease the high percentage of high school drop-outs. Adolescence is a common turning point in the lives of young adults. During this time students may permanently divert from serious engagement in school. In return, they may turn to a variety of risky behaviors that can limit their chances of graduating high school, in turn highly limiting their job search.

Mentoring affects the communities we serve in a positive way by providing consistency, structure, and support in the lives of students who otherwise may not have it. Mentoring is a positive youth development strategy that supports the goal of reducing the dropout rate by 50 percent over the next five years. (Source: Mentor® National Mentoring Partnership).

 

  • How has mentoring impacted youth you serve?
    SMILES helps to empower youth in our community to make positive life choices that enable them to maximize their potential as they grow. In our literacy-based mentoring programs (elementary school), mentors are encouraged to support their mentee in discovering solutions, solving problems, and finding meaning in their daily literacy work. The one-on-one mentoring relationship that SMILES offers is especially important with our literacy-based programs because mentors can target and address each child’s individual needs on a regular basis. Our literacy curriculum aims to enable mentors to help students become independent learners with strategies for discovering solutions on their own while supporting the development of a mentoring friendship. By teaching their mentees strategies for learning how to read and write, SMILES mentors are instilling in young people the values that they need to succeed both in and out of the classroom: a sense of confidence, a feeling of accomplishment, and a passion for learning.

 

The middle and high school years are instrumental in the development of every young person. In grades 6-12, our Traditional Mentoring curriculum is based on the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets®, which are 40 positive experiences and qualities that help influence choices young people make and help them become caring, responsible, successful adults. These assets are grounded in extensive research in youth development, resiliency and prevention and represent the relationships, opportunities and personal qualities that young people need to avoid risks and to thrive. SMILES prepares activities for traditional mentoring programs, based on these assets, that mentors and mentees participate in during mentoring time. The program group leader presents the activity and provides all supplies. Each activity is designed to be fun and engaging for both the mentor and mentee while building the mentee’s self-esteem, good behaviors in and out of the classroom, and decision-making skills.

 What is your program doing to celebrate National Mentoring Month?
In honor of National Mentoring Month, SMILES is collaborating with other SouthCoast mentoring agencies to host a 2013 Mentoring Rally. We will be celebrating mentors in the SouthCoast region while also spreading awareness about mentoring and recruiting mentors. This event is in collaboration with Big Friends Little Friends of Fall River, a program of Family Service Association. There will also be representation from mentoring programs throughout the SouthCoast region.

Mentor/mentee pairs from programs in our regional will be sharing their experiences. There will also be refreshments and a raffle.

What advice would you give to adults looking to become mentors?
I could list a million reasons for why mentoring is so great…but I’ll list just a few here:

  • Feeling great knowing that you are helping a young person to grow in a positive direction
  • The opportunity to meet other volunteers who share your desire to create positive change in our community
  • People who volunteer live longer, have greater functional ability and lower rates of depression (The Corporation for National and Community Service)
  • Volunteer activities help with interpersonal skills, such as understanding people better, motivating others, and dealing with difficult situations

 The SMILES Mentoring Program helps to empower youth in our community to make positive life choices that enable them to maximize their potential. For more information visit www.peopleinc-fr.org/programs-smiles.html.