Vol. 19, No. 16
Jan. 13, 2000
Just one caring adult can make a real difference in a child's life. That's the philosophy behind mentoring programs, which are growing at a rapid pace in the nation, in Delaware and at the University. Gov. Tom Carper has called for 10,000 mentors in Delaware, and a new UD program is already helping to achieve that goal.
"There are many needy children out there, but if people take responsibility for helping just one child-and if there are enough of us who do that-we can make an enormous difference," Theresa Clower, director of the new Office of Community and School Volunteers in the College of Human Resources, Education and Public Policy (CHEP), said.
The Office of Community and School Volunteers provides staff support for the Delaware Mentoring Council, established by Carper in 1998 to institutionalize and promote programs in which adults interact one-on-one with children who need academic help, require a stable role model or just need the encouragement and friendship of a responsible adult. The mentoring council's more than 30 members work to support the efforts of businesses and community groups that are involved in mentoring programs. Among other projects, the council has developed guidelines for starting and operating such programs, for screening volunteers to keep children safe and for training mentors.
According to CHEP Dean Dan Rich, co-chair of the Delaware Mentoring Council, "The Office of Community and School Volunteers and the council it supports provide direct assistance statewide to mentoring programs through technical support, including training and quality assurance guidelines for both volunteers and the schools using them. The council and the office also are helping to increase the number of qualified volunteers in our schools and community organizations available to help Delaware's children."
"The Delaware Mentoring Council," Clower said, "wants to find a mentor for every Delaware child who needs one-to enhance academic performance, raise self-esteem and promote a sense of independence. Children who need mentors are identified through referrals from schools and teachers."
Part of the Delaware Center for Teacher Education within CHEP, the office provides active support for three mentoring programs on the UD campus: the VISTA Project, coordinated by Clower; the America Reads Program, coordinated by Wendy Lewis; and the AmeriCorps/First State Mentor Corps Program, coordinated by Lisa Diller.
The UD VISTA Project places volunteer coordinators in public schools throughout Delaware. A cooperative program with the Center for National Service, VISTA encourages a year of volunteer service to AmeriCorps. "These volunteer coordinators work with the community to help train, monitor and recognize the volunteers," Clower said
Currently, there are six VISTA volunteer coordinators, all recent UD graduates, located in schools in New Castle and Sussex counties. The goal is to place up to 30 VISTA members in schools around the state. CHEP offers a guarantee of an assistantship to anyone who completes a year of service and is accepted into one of the participating degree programs within the college.
The First State Mentor Corps is the only campus-based project of the six AmeriCorps programs in Delaware. It involves three campuses-UD in Newark, Delaware State University in Dover and the Owens Campus of Delaware Technical and Community College in Georgetown. Currently, 46 participants, most of them full-time students serving for 900 volunteer hours over two years, work with elementary- and middle-school-aged children in schools and at community sites.
The program has two goals: to mentor children and to train others to become mentors. Most of the mentor-oriented training takes place on the UD campus where CHEP sponsors a one-credit, pass/fail course entitled "Mentoring for Change: Building Strong Communities through Relationships."
UD AmeriCorps members serve as teaching assistants for the course, which is offered via distance learning. During the fall semester, there were five sections in residence halls and one in a fraternity, with a total of 115 students enrolled. The AmeriCorps members work in teams of two or three as teaching assistants. Students enrolled in the course commit to eight hours of work with a child. In the fall semester, members worked with children at the College School, part of CHEP's School of Education, and at Girls Inc. in Newark. By the end of the academic year, about 350 college students will have been trained to be mentors.
The America Reads initiative calls on all Americans to help insure that every child can read well and independently by the end of third grade. Through the program, thousands of tutors and reading partners across the country are being mobilized and trained to work with young children and their families, in coordination with and under the guidance of trained professionals.
At UD, approximately 40 students are participating through the federal College Work-Study Program. The UD students- trained and supervised by staff and graduate assistants-have been placed in six sites throughout New Castle County, tutoring children in kindergarten through third grade.
For more information on mentoring, call CHEP's Office of Community and School Volunteers at 831-0520.