Celebrating National Mentoring Month with the YWCA

(Photo Source: Unsplash).

January is National Mentoring Month, and one program within the Cortland community is celebrating it proudly.

According to the mentoring.org website, National Mentoring Month is an opportunity to “recruit new mentors, advance the mentoring field’s legislative priorities, and drive meaningful change for young people.”

“This month-long celebration of mentoring is full of exciting opportunities to grow the movement and raise awareness about the power of relationships,” according to a statement from the mentoring.org website.

Community leaders like Mindy Gardner, who has been the mentoring director for the Bridges for Kids program at YWCA Cortland for four years, said National Mentoring Month is “is essential to celebrate and to keep programs like (Bridges for Kids) going on because they truly make a difference.”

The Bridges for Kids program, which has been running at the YWCA for 42 years, is mainly one-on-one mentoring. It was recently expanded to group mentoring (a group of children with one or two mentors), Gardner said.

The program is broken down into three sections. The main section is for 5-to-12 year olds. The other programs are through Girls Empowered Through Meaningful Support (GEMS), which has a teen group (13-to-18 year olds) and a junior group (11-to-12 year olds).

The program as a whole has 56 mentors between college students and community members, but since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a pen pal program has taken place in an effort to continue the connection between mentors and children.

(Photo via the mentoring.org website)

“The program really blossomed,” Gardner said. She added that mentors can now either see their mentees in person or continue the pen pal program. Gardner also noted that 93% of the children in the program are “living well below the poverty line.”

“These kids need some sort of person in their lives. They all come from different backgrounds,” she added. “Many of them have endured trauma, and not all of them live with their parents. Some of these kids don’t have any form of emotional support when they get home.”

Gardner noted the ultimate goal of the Bridges for Kids program is to “end generational poverty.”

“Seeing these children born into and living through poverty is what we want to end,” she added.

Gardner mentioned that a handful of success stories have come out of the program, including through GEMS.

“A few of our GEMS have graduated high school and went on to college,” she said. “Kids are attending school and striving to do better. They want to do better for their mentors.”

To celebrate National Mentoring Month and support mentoring young children beyond the month of January, Gardner said community members can either sign up to volunteer or provide financial assistance within the program.