Strengthening youth mentoring in the Berkshires

Guest blogger Alex Lenski is a Highland Street Corps Ambassador of Mentoring at Child Care of the Berkshires

CCBChild Care of the Berkshires exists as a formative anchor within the community of Northern Berkshire County, its programs bound together by the core mission to strengthen and support families. Berkshire Youth Mentoring (BYM), the newest in a series of additional resources to the organization, has only its predecessor - 42 years as a Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliate - as a qualitative history of mentoring.

I’ve been honored, since August, to accept the challenge of revitalizing the Berkshires with a program that is lucky to be an Affiliate Member of Mass Mentoring Partnership. My service year within the AmeriCorps brings the hurdle of rural poverty, non-profit work, and community collaboration to the forefront, as I begin to recognize the difficulty that is bringing people together to serve youth with the best opportunities available. More pertinent, rather, has been the progress each day to build a program that is rich with support and training for mentors and families, has engaging and skill-based activities, and allows for effective best practices.

CCB1After BBBS left the Berkshires, a plethora of collaborations have sprung up to support mentoring - changing school-based models in particular. Students from Brayton Elementary in North Adams and BART College Prep Charter in Adams, ages 8-14, meet with mentors from the community, Williams College, and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts each week to discuss and do just about anything the student would like.

Schoolwork is surely not on mentees’ mind when it comes to choosing activities. Though many view the successes in mentoring stories as that of an academic nature, our mentoring program believes the import of learning comes from the ability of a mentee to explore their shared interests with a mentor. Relationships blossom because youth are active in their own cognitive and social development, and persistent adults can facilitate and touch upon the strengths that rise to the surface. Youth in the program set goals with their mentor based on career and extra-curricular aspirations, allowing for future activities to more easily reflect the intuitive bond that matches find.

We have many good things within the community planned: exploratory volunteer projects, mentor talk sessions, and experiences at local partner sites such as YMCAs and youth centers. Trainings for parents are becoming more widely available, especially here at Child Care of the Berkshires, where resources vary from free classes, play events, and group discussions. While we structure the skeleton of the program, the why of what we do lies in the awkward stories we tell, the ice breaking, the smiles that are inherent in meeting people for the first time.

As I joked in a recent kick-off meeting of mentors and mentees (and I’m very grateful to serve in a field where sociability is prized), I’m the buffer-guy. I let the pressure fall on me. While our 20-odd matches make headway into their very beginnings, they’re going to need not only time to make everlasting friendships, but a team that is there to guide the process. We follow best practices because they're proven to make mentoring strong, and we do what we do because mentoring is also a lot of fun when it’s done right.

We’d love to have more conversation. To be personally in touch, please give Alex a call at 413. 663.6593, or check out our blog at