by Haley Bader

In Alexandria, VA, National Mentoring Month gains more attention every year.  In order to help spread awareness for this January’s campaign, I’m taking on two roles as an Americorps VISTA. The first “hat” I’m wearing is my SOHO cap: I’m working on standard outreach for the program. My other “hat” is my Alexandria Mentoring Partnership beret:  I’m heading the AMP NMM planning committee. My goals are to promote mentoring throughout the Alexandria community and to recruit mentors for SOHO and the other ten AMP member programs.

Space of Her/His Own is an out-of-school mentoring program that has been around for a little over ten years. The program initially began as an Alexandria Court Services Unit intervention/prevention program for court-involved youth and gained nonprofit status in 2010 when we decided to expand. Today’s SOHO provides encouragement to 5th grade girls and boys who often feel their choices are difficult, their talents are not yet realized, and their prospects are limited. SOHO youth gain confidence, increase their self-esteem and cultivate creative thinking skills by creating art, practicing carpentry skills, growing academically and determining the path to a productive life. Through this unique SOHO process, youth develop powerful tools that can be drawn on far in the future. Our program also provides resources for the mentors to help renovate each child’s bedroom at the end of the program year. The spaces are transformed using the projects mentors and mentees have created during the structured program hours, providing a place where each of the program’s participants are reminded of their SOHO circles of care and support.
SOHO is also a member of the Alexandria Mentoring Partnership, a coalition of 12 local mentoring programs. The partnership began several years ago in response to the shooting of a youth in Alexandria. Community members approached the City and asked officials to address the violence, insecurity, and instability that many of the youth in our community face on a daily basis. The City responded by forming the AMP, an umbrella organization that requires its members to commit to Best Practices for mentoring. The core belief of the AMP is that every child deserves a mentor, someone to help them surpass the many challenges of youth in order to develop the skills they need to lead successful, fulfilling lives.

In order to spread awareness, former SOHO mentors will be participating in a newsletter campaign that will highlight their role as volunteer mentors. Each mentor will add personal flair to a generic “article” that they will submit to their business or company newsletter. The personalized stories will include information on how to contact and volunteer with our program. Mentors will also wear stickers to work one day during NMM with the message, “Ask me why I mentor.”
SOHO has also secured a spot on Fox 5’s NMM phone-a-thon, sponsored by Alexandria’s Concerned Black Men. We participated last year and got a good bit of interest from the event. For our social media campaign, we will share daily inspirational quotations and messages from former mentors. Finally, mentees from this year’s programs will be creating cards and small art projects that they will present to their mentors for Thank Your Mentor Day.

The Alexandria Mentoring Partnership will be hosting a mentor recruitment event.  The event will feature creative projects that mentor/mentee pairs from each of the representing programs have crafted for a National Mentoring Month competition. Each project will answer the question, “How has mentoring changed your life?” Alexandria’s Mayor will present the awards for the top three entries, and the winning pairs will present their projects to the event’s attendees. After awards, the event’s attendees will break off into two sections. The first group, comprised of current mentors, will attend a workshop on Cyberbullying and Internet Safety. The second group will be made up of potential mentors, who will attend an information session where mentors and mentees from each of the 12 program will represent their organizations. Following the breakout session, all current mentors and any attendees who fill out a sheet indicating interest in any of the AMP programs will be entered in separate raffle drawings.
Mentors from two of Alexandria’s programs as well as an Executive Director from a third program participated in a filming for Alexandria Mayor Euille’s monthly television spot. We prepared the participants with several questions beforehand, asking them to speak on the need for mentoring in the community, how mentoring has changed their lives, and the rewards of mentoring.

I also had the opportunity to interview the mayor to produce several clips that will be used for AMP’s social media campaign during January. I drafted questions about his experiences with mentoring, who has mentored him, and why members of the Alexandria community should “step up to the plate” and mentor. These clips will be posted to the AMP’s Facebook page and linked to the City’s account. The social media campaign will also include daily messages/statistics/inspirational quotations that will be posted on the AMP and City Facebook pages.

Hats off to all Americorps VISTAs working to promote mentoring in communities across the nation!