It’s incredible to see a child’s self-esteem grow, just because a trusting adult told them, ‘I believe in you.’” That’s the ultimate power of mentoring, according to Laura Leporati, a mentoring program coordinator for AMP! Metro Richmond.
“It is important to invest in mentoring for young people because there are so many in our own communities who don’t always have positive support, and the odds are stacked against them,” says Leporati. “Each child should have someone who can encourage him, support his dreams, pick him up when he’s down, and cheer him on when he’s on the right track.”
AMP! Metro Richmond, the program Leporati coordinates, is a one-to-one mentoring program operating in Thomas C. Boushall Middle School in Richmond’s Southside. Mentors and students meet weekly on Tuesdays at lunchtime, forming a relationship shaped to suit the needs of the student. Some play games. Some share common interests in sports, the arts, or computers. AMP! is a simple and flexible concept based on the belief that everyone has strengths, and those strengths can be accessed and reinforced when adults spend time with young people.
AMP! is one of many program partners of Virginia Mentoring Partnership (VMP), a nonprofit based in Richmond that buoys the youth mentoring movement across Virginia. VMP’s mission is to partner with youth mentoring programs to help grow their impact because research shows high-quality mentoring transforms lives and strengthens communities. VMP provides support to more than sixty programs n the Richmond region whose mentors come from area businesses, universities, civic organizations, faith communities, and more.
Leporati says VMP’s support has been crucial to the success of the Southside program she oversees.
“The VMP staff has trained hundreds of new mentors for our program and provided valuable coaching. They listened to us, encouraged us, held us up to high standards, helped us through struggles, and shared in our successes,” says Leporati.
Founded in 1993, VMP has trained more than 40,000 volunteers for their roles as mentors and has provided support to mentoring organizations in every region in the state. Creating high-quality, sustainable matches between mentors and children requires mentors to be prepared, trained, and receive ongoing support. Mentoring programs need to meet national standards and follow best practices so they can equip their mentors with the tools and resources to best engage with their mentees. It’s VMP’s goal to help local mentoring programs reach more youth and provide higher quality mentoring.
Miriam R. Davidow is an educational consultant in Richmond who has been a mentor for decades. She worked with Richmond Public Schools, is a founder of the Richmond Jewish Coalition for Literacy, and served as the director of strategic services for VMP, leading development and advocacy efforts for the organization.
“Mentoring makes a difference in the lives of our youth. We see the difference – anecdotally and statistically – in the young people, in their school environments, and in their families,” says Davidow. “Both the mentor and the mentee benefit, as does society in general. It brings folks to communities that they normally may not engage with otherwise.”
Betsy Bilharz, director of training and program quality for VMP, says Davidow is right about the reciprocal benefit provided by mentoring. Most mentors report they have an improved sense of well-being, enhanced relationships, a better understanding of other cultures, and a greater appreciation for diversity once they have served as a mentor.
VMP is an affiliate of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. In 2014, they released a report called “The Mentoring Effect,” which showed that one in three young people do not have a trusted adult mentor. “That means one in three youth make everyday choices without the support system necessary for them to thrive, and many face multiple risk factors like having an incarcerated parent or guardian, regular absenteeism, behavioral problems, teenage pregnancy, or homelessness,” says Bilharz. “VMP is working to close this mentoring gap by raising awareness about the importance of mentoring young people and ensuring that mentoring programs in the region are strong, sustainable, and high-quality.”
Make a Difference. Become a Mentor.
When you mentor one child, you change two lives! For twenty-five years, VMP has been working to change lives, and there is still so much work to do in Richmond and beyond. To help VMP close the mentoring gap by volunteering as a mentor, visit vamentoring.org, call 804-828-1536 to find a local mentoring program, or attend a VMP training session.