Mountain View Voice

News - June 29, 2012

Searching for more mentors

Friends for Youth trying to find matches for boys in need

by Emily Efland

When single mother and Mountain View resident Deb Page began volunteering with Friends for Youth, a local organization that pairs at-risk youth with adult mentors, she noticed the lack of adult male involvement in the program.

This did not surprise her, as she had already witnessed the shortage of male volunteers in nonprofit organizations firsthand. Even after her son did a cameo TV spot for the organization Big Brothers Big Sisters, the program later told her that he would not have a Big Brother of his own due to a dearth of adult male participants.

Friends for Youth's recruitment specialist, Jonathan Cowgill, acknowledges the additional obstacles involved in recruiting men to act as mentors. He cites social stigma as the primary barrier between men and volunteering, saying that many men view it as an activity for women.

Because the organization pairs mentors with students of the same gender, boys on the waiting list often wait twice as long as girls. There simply aren't enough men to be paired with all of the boys referred to the program. Currently, 38 of the 60 children on Friends for Youth's waiting list are boys.

"One of the greatest needs that Friends for Youth has is for more male mentors," says Program Director Rebecca Duran.

Recruiting more men

To recruit more male volunteers this summer, Friends for Youth has launched a new campaign, entitled "Get In The Game." The campaign incorporates more active, outdoor activities such as barbeques, beach trips, and soccer games into a mentoring team's schedule.

Although the Get In The Game initiative applies to all Friends for Youth sectors throughout the Peninsula and South Bay, Duran stresses the importance of the campaign's influence in Mountain View.

"This initiative does focus on Mountain View because we have a history of mentors from this city, and we hope to recruit new male mentors through this campaign to match with youth on our waiting list," Duran says.

The Get In The Game campaign includes a wide range of advertising measures in order to recruit male mentors. Cowgill explains that publicity for the organization usually spreads through word of mouth. Most male volunteers learn about the organization through female friends or family members.

"Really the (recruiting) tactics are getting to the men where they are, and talking to women and telling them to tell their husband, son, brother to do this," Cowgill says. "All of our advertising is oriented at men, and a lot of the places where we go to do presentations are pretty male dominated."

Although he emphasizes that Friends for Youth still seeks to recruit women volunteers as well, the gender disparity in involvement with the organization calls for extreme advertising measures.

"They really do need mentors, these kids that are struggling," Cowgill says. "Having a man that will just be there every week builds trust, their stable environment lets them do better in school. They're not worried about whether their dad is going to come home that night."

'My second mom'

Page is one of Mountain View's current successful matches. She met her mentee, Yessica Mota, in 2009. The two say they clicked instantly.

Mota was referred to Friends for Youth by her therapist, and was originally skeptical of the organization.

"I was like, 'I already have friends, I don't need friends, I don't want more friends,'" Mota recalls. "But my therapist said it was a good idea, and I like meeting new people."

After three months on the waiting list, she was matched with Page. By their second meeting, Page says they started taking pictures and agreed to begin a scrapbook. Almost three years later, they stay in touch and reunite periodically.

"She's like my second mom," Mota says.

Page says that the most rewarding part of her friendship with Mota was simply getting to know her.

"You can work out so many things by just talking it out," Page says. "And I'm not there to judge her. I hope I stay in touch with her forever."

Successful matches

The mentoring services staff matches adult volunteers with youth referred to the program, based on the volunteers' background and skills and both participants' interests. School counselors, therapists, or other organizations refer the boys and girls, ages 8-17, to Friends for Youth.

In its 33 years, 88 percent of Friends for Youth friendships have stayed together for their required one year, while the national average of successful friendships is 30 percent - 60 percent, Cowgill says. Currently the organization has over 160 active friendships. This year 52 matches were made, while last year matched 50 volunteers with youth, the most matches in nine years. Seven of these friendships are in the Mountain View area. Cowgill attributes this increase in matches to an increased focus on the matching process.

"We've just had the capacity," Cowgill says. "Before I came, there wasn't somebody who was engaged in doing full-time recruitment work. I've been able to do that full time, so as a result we've been able to get more matches."

Cowgill committed to one year of community service with Friends for Youth in 2010 through the national community service organization AmeriCorps as a Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA). After a year of aiding the organization with recruitment and mentoring a young boy, he became the recruitment coordinator.

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