Seneca Mentoring Youth Links, SMYL, has hired a case manager to match mentors with Seneca County youth. In September, Jami Opp received training from Cindy Miller and started looking for mentors to match with local children.
"Life events led me to this position," Opp said.
The single mom had started taking college classes before her children were born. When her son was diagnosed with autism, Opp put her education on hold to be more available for him. In doing some volunteer work for Family and Children First Council, she saw the need for a mentoring program in Seneca County.
"With my son, I can't tell you how many trainings, webinars, seminars, doctors, neurologists, psychologists, research whatever I could do to help my son. There was no help then," Opp said.
She was grateful for a neighbor who served as a father figure for her boy. The man included her son in activities with his own children. In spite of a shaky start, her son, now a teen, is enrolled in regular classes at school and has even made the honor roll.
"To have a male figure in his life, I could see a whole different improvement with him," Opp said.
Their relationship was a kind of forerunner to the work she was about to do. When Opp went back to her studies, she took a variety of part-time jobs to pay the bills. When the SMYL case manager position became available, she was finishing coursework for her bachelor's degree at Tiffin University.
"I'm at a council meeting and I hear they're going to hire somebody for this position. I said, 'That's my job. I have to apply for this,'" Opp said.
Her application was accepted. Although it was a challenge to be working while preparing to graduate, she completed her degree in mid-October.
So far, she has matched two boys and two girls with mentors through SMYL.
"My first match was a boy who had been on the waiting list for over two years with another organization. I was able to match him within a week," Opp said.
She said she was able to find a mentor who has common interests with the young man in outdoor activities and sports. Moms can't always do the "guy stuff," Opp observed. The mother and the mentor sent Opp thank-you messages for bringing the pair together.
"I want to match them so it's going to be a lasting match I'm willing to do whatever it takes to find mentors for these kids," she added.
In January, Opp is to begin work on a master's degree in psychology with emphasis in criminal behavior intervention. She would like to earn a doctorate to help youth with behavioral disorders and to teach caregivers and family members how to deal with them. For now, Opp continues to seek more mentors.
"I have a great deal of mentors in place but it's mostly females, so we are still looking for male mentors. And I recently started taking child referrals," she said. "With my own personal experience with my own son that has behavioral difficulties, I am able to relate to a lot of the other parents."
Mentors are asked to spend a minimum of four hours a month with a child, but they can do more if they choose. Opp said some children could benefit from more than four hours of positive attention per month. She knows a mentor can boost a child's self-esteem and help him or her realize the many options available for a successful life.
"This is the most rewarding job ever," Opp said.
Anyone interested in serving as a mentor can contact her by e-mail at senecaSMYL@gmail.com, by calling (419) 443-0981 or at 201 S. Washington St., Tiffin.