Mentoring network searches for volunteers    
by Dustin Brady

(Plain Press, October 2006) Ron Fields helps foster children at the Cleveland Christian Home. He tells of one local teenager who came to him saying that he could not do anything. In August, Fields took the teen to watch the Firestone golf tournament in Akron. After seeing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson hit golf balls for an afternoon, the youth turned to Fields and said, “I’d like to do that.” Fields, who used to be a golf instructor at Cleveland Central Catholic, was more than happy to help. “Today,“ he said, “I’m taking him to the driving range.”

Fields is a mentor in the new Northeast Ohio Mentoring Network. Many of his mentoring trips are made possible by scholarships provided by the network. The network, which helps train and fund local mentoring agencies, is looking for churches and community organizations who want to mentor area youth.

The Community Care Network, located on Scranton Road, started the program in May after receiving a $1 million grant from the governor’s office. The grant is part of the state’s program to start faith-based and community initiatives aimed at families throughout the state.  Governor Taft hopes to reduce out-of-wedlock pregnancy and form healthy two-parent families through these initiatives.

The Northeast Ohio Mentoring Network is the first of its kind in the state. Organizations joining the network are provided training by experienced professionals, plus scholarships for each teenager mentored. After the mentors have received training, young people ages 16-22 can sign up to be mentored in a nine-month program. Organizations are not told what kind of programs they must run; rather, they are given freedom to choose how they want to mentor teens.

Fields, who has been working with teens since 1976, helped develop the training curriculum. The biggest thing that he stresses throughout training is that it takes time to develop a relationship with the child. “Each child is different,” he said. “Like you and me, each child is an individual with his own personal baggage.” Instructors also teach mentors how to fill out weekly reports, how to interact with children, and how to follow various rules and regulations.

The flexibility of each organization to choose its own programming is what makes the network so unique, according to the program director, George Pelletier.  Mentoring agencies already associated with the network provide such diverse services as football leagues, after-school tutoring, computer education, and job application help. One program even partners with CVS to assist young adults in becoming certified pharmacy technicians, allowing them to get pharmacy jobs nationwide. Pelletier said that he is also trying to schedule several network-wide activities for all organizations to get together.

The Northeast Ohio Mentoring Network is looking for new organizations with whom they can partner. Some organizations that have already signed on include Learnquest, Scranton Road Bible Church, Cleveland Christian Home, Youth Opportunities Unlimited, and the Merrick House. The network hopes to be partnered with 40 agencies, mentoring 900 youth by this time next year. Organizers see the success of this program as important not only in Cuyahoga County, but also to the entire state of Ohio. “It’ll branch out to other counties if we can make it work,” Fields said.

Any church or agency that wants to join the network can contact Karen Wallace at 216-688-4184. They must be able to provide mentors over 21 years old who are willing to spend at least one hour per week with a child for nine months. “This is a greatly needed service here in this county,” Pelletier said. “It’s an experience that not only gives something to the youth, but also very much something to the mentors as well.”

Why did Fields become a mentor? “You may be the one that helps shape a child’s life. You never know,” he said. “It’s about seeing a kid smile when you come to pick him up, when he hasn’t smiled all day—being able to touch a kid that you were never able to touch before.”


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