Children and young people benefit immensely for every positive adult role model in their lives. But not all Austin-area children know adults beyond their busy parent or a teacher. Too many kids can’t imagine a future for themselves beyond what they’re living now.
Many of the kids served by local mentoring programs come from single-parent homes where the one parent struggles to make ends meet or serve the needs of all their children. Those parents realize their child needs more time and attention, but they also can benefit from a relationship with someone whose life and work is different from their own, someone who can help that child see beyond the world they’re living in.
And sometimes a parent can tell when a kid is just lonely and needs someone to talk to. That’s when a parent reaches out for help.
Just read any of the real-life stories of local mentor relationships created by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. You’ll see story after story of children whose lives are now on a different path – or a path at all – thanks to the time spent with a positive adult. In most cases, they meet just once a week and it’s usually to do something fun. And remember, for kids, “something fun” can just be an afternoon at a movie or learning a card game.
As one BBBS mom said, “When mentorship is done right, it doesn’t take a lot to make a kid happy. Children just want time and attention.”
Mentorship can have a big impact on a child’s academic success as well. BBBS reports that the children it serves do better in school and make plans to go to college. They also are less likely to engage in risky behaviors like using drugs or tobacco or skipping school, and they have better relationships with their parents and other adults.
While BBBS serves more than 1,000 children and families now, there are about 600 more on the waiting list. That means all kinds of mentors are needed to sign up. But because of Austin’s changing demographics, people of color are especially needed, as are men.
Paulina Artieda, a creative strategist, recently signed up to be a CASA volunteer, a nonprofit that pairs adults mentor-advocates with children and youth in the care of the state. Though she had been an active volunteer before, Artieda hadn’t considered mentoring until someone told her that for young Latinas, knowing a successful Latina woman can have a huge impact on the possibilities they see for themselves.
“I realized how much kids need mentors that come from relevant backgrounds and culture and can understand their family traditions,” she said. “I’ve been surprised by how much I advocate for mentorship now. I thought it to be a very personal experience but have shared and promoted the program with excitement.”
Mentoring isn’t for everyone. Many opportunities require training, a thorough background check, references, an in-person interview and a wait-time to be matched, all before even meeting your “little”. Then you’ll be asked to meet weekly or bi-weekly and commit to a school year or a calendar year. But organizations like BBBS also set you up for success, offering lots of support and ideas for how to make the most of your mentorship.
Browse the opportunities below and read through their stories to find out if mentoring a child in the Austin area is right for you:
Big Brothers Big Sisters – More than 70 percent of 600 kids on the BBBS waiting list are boys, so male volunteers are in special demand. Right now, BBBS is looking for U.S. veterans to serve as mentors for children of veterans. Learn more about mentoring with BBBS here.
Seedling Foundation – Seedling aims to support children whose parents are currently incarcerated with school-based mentoring. It’s now currently enrolling mentors for the 2017-18 school year. Learn more about mentoring with Seedling here.
Southwest Key – This program serves youth ages 10-17 who are in the juvenile justice system with a goal is helping these young people stay out of the system in the future, have more successful academic and social lives and imagine a different future for themselves. Mentors commit to one year and are offered extensive training and ongoing support. Learn more about mentoring with Southwest Key here.
Community Youth Development Program – This City of Austin program serves the Dove Springs area and serves kids 10-14. The once-a-week sessions happens in a group setting. The mentor/group mentees model offers youth the opportunity to learn how to develop a healthy relationship with an adult in a group setting, a skill that can be replicated with parents, teachers, and other adults. The goal of this program is to reduce and prevent activities that can lead to juvenile delinquency. Learn more about the Community Youth Development Program here.
CASA of Travis County – Court Appointed Special Advocates helps volunteers speak up for children who have abused or neglected. When a child is removed from home under these circumstances, they enter a very adult world filled with social workers, lawyers and judges, where decisions are made for them. As their advocate and mentor, you get to know their needs and wishes and speak up for them. It’s mentoring plus advocating, and though it’s a big commitment, it can also be extremely gratifying. Learn more about CASA here.
Youth Rise Texas – Youth Rise develops the leadership of teens who have been impacted by the incarceration or deportation of a parent or caregiver. Its mentor program serves 15-20 year olds by helping them carry out a community-based social change project so they can learn more about civic engagement and, more importantly for them, self-empowerment. Learn more about Youth Rise here.
Partnerships for Children – Partnerships for Children serves young people in Child Protective Services, and its YES program is aimed at bolstering youths’ self-esteem and enhancing their ability to make responsible decisions. Volunteer mentors are paired with each participant for one year and meet in small groups to go through the curriculum. Learn more about Partnerships for Children here.
Austin Partners in Education – APIE mentors work one-on-one with Austin students during the school day to help them improve their social and study skills and strengthen their communication skills and self-confidence. Each participating school has a campus-based mentor coordinator for support. Learn more about being a mentor through APIE here.
Explore Austin – Its program works with local 6th-graders to foster leadership, self-confidence and a love of the outdoors. Share your love of the outdoors Mentors are expected to join kids when they’re in 6th grade and stay with them through high school graduation. You’ll commit to one Saturday a month during the school year and one week in the summer, working with a group of 15 kids alongside four co-mentors. Learn more about Explore Austin here.
Looking to volunteer with students during the school year? Most school districts offer academic-year mentoring and tutoring programs as well. Find more information about mentoring with Del Valle ISD, Hays CISD, Round Rock ISD, Pflugerville ISD, and Manor ISD. Austin ISD mentorship takes place through Austin Partners in Education.