Research shows having a mentor boosts a child's self-confidence and makes youth more likely to finish high school. When Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County expanded its program to Seneca County, local agencies were hopeful it would provide traditional matches and then move into the schools; however, it has stalled.
Now, Seneca County is striking out with its own mentoring program.
In November, a group of concerned citizens met for that purpose. They have named the program Seneca Mentoring Youth Links. Two of the organizers are Connie Makesemetz of the Family and Children First Council and Jay Rishty of Children's Protective Services. The group's mission statement is "mentoring Seneca County youth to make better choices for a better future."
"One of the main reasons (for forming a new agency) was because, after four years, I think we have less than 20 Big Brother Big Sister matches for our county," Maksemetz said.
Children on the waiting list have exceeded the number of those matched with adults. The Tiffin community appears to be too small to support the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
"It was not a good fit for us," Rishty said. "We know our own assets."
Hancock County has its own mentoring program, so the Seneca County group obtained documents, guidelines and suggestions from its neighbors. Maksemetz said SMYL is to be adapted from the Hancock County program. The bylaws have been compiled and officers have been chosen. Rishty is president for 2013.
Rishty said many of the students who come through his office are not aware of resources available in the community. He has contacted Tiffin University and Heidelberg University to see what kinds of financial and academic aid they may offer to make college possible for students from low-income families.
"Another thing we talked about is having older students mentor younger ones," Rishty said. "I've heard a lot of the younger kids talk about being bullied. They just need someone on their side."
Older students could read stories to younger kids at their schools or help with homework and projects.
"One of the main things, even when we brought in Big Brothers Big Sisters, was to increase the graduation rate," Maksemetz said.
In December, a bead party brought in $900 to get the program started, and one donor gave $100. Additional funds are needed to pay for liability insurance, apply for non-profit status and cover fingerprinting and background checks.
Maksemetz said once SMYL is established, it will seek to become a United Way agency.
SMYL members are applying for grants and are working on a logo design. Earlier this month, a letter went out to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County to sever its ties with Seneca County. As for current BB/BS matches, Maksemetz would like SMYL to "reach out" and bring them into SMYL.
"We're really hoping to get enough through grants and donations that we'll be able to hire a case manager," she said.
Until then, Maksemetz will be able to devote some of her time as wrap-around coordinator for case management and Sharon George of Family and Children First Council also can share some of her hours.
The group will have school matches, university matches and traditional matches. Once adult volunteers are matched with students, SMYL is hoping to have events and activities for them.
"We're looking at more fundraisers right now," Rishty said.
April 11, the group is planning a Spring SMYL Spectacular at Camden Falls. Described as "a ladies' night out," the event still is in the planning stages.
SMYL also is seeking adults and high school students to become mentors. The main qualification for a mentor is a concern for the child - a willingness take an interest in him or her.
Spending money is not as important as spending time.
Maksemetz said she appreciated the adult mentors she had in her youth. She has worked with many single parents with demanding jobs and no family members nearby for support. Some are just exhausted and would benefit from the respite a mentor might provide.
"It's an important program. There's such a need, so we really hope the community will support it," Maksemetz said.
Anyone with an interest in mentoring or in donating to the effort may contact Maksemetz by calling her at (419) 443-0981 or stopping at 201 S. Washington St.
The group's next meeting is at noon Feb. 14 at the North Central Ohio Educational Service Center on West Market Street.