A Publication of WTVP

Pairing local students with volunteer role models…

We all know kids need strong role models, but unfortunately, not every child has one. One program working to fill that role is Goodwill’s GoodGuides youth mentoring program.

Launched in 2009, GoodGuides pairs volunteer mentors with youth ages 12 to 17 in a structured, supportive relationship. The program focuses on career-based mentoring while teaching responsibility through service-learning projects. “Goodwill Central Illinois had identified the need for youth services… when this opportunity came to us from Goodwill Industries International,” explains program manager Elizabeth McCombs. There are currently 22 Goodwill sites across the nation that offer the program, which is funded by a grant from the Department of Justice.

GoodGuides matches mentors and students using a “best fit” process, considering the needs expressed by the mentor and the youth. Because some individuals are more comfortable in group scenarios, McCombs explains, the program allows for both one-on-one and group mentoring, and both adults and peers (ages 16 and up) are eligible to become mentors.

Lisa Trimble, a volunteer development specialist at Girl Scouts of Central Illinois, became a GoodGuides mentor last June. “I always like to give back to my community and volunteer for other not-for profit organizations,” she explains. “I’ve worked with youth for a long time. I thought by being a leader in the community, I could also share my skills and my knowledge base with someone who could really use it.” Trimble has noticed growth in her student since they met last summer. One of her favorite memories was delivering meals together, noting the community service helped instill a sense of compassion and responsibility.

The presence of positive mentors also helps improve school attendance, class participation, communication skills and academic performance. Students interested in joining the program must write an essay explaining how they would benefit from a mentor. McCombs says the most common response is that he or she needs someone to listen to them and offer advice on their future. She recalls they’ve had mentors aid students in a wide range of areas, from talking with their teachers to helping them fill out college applications. “We meet all youth where they’re at,” McCombs explains. “[Mentors] are there to help encourage youth to think about what comes next.”

Once paired with a mentor, participants are asked to set at least three goals they would like to achieve with their help. The youth/mentor pair teams up for a year, which helps to build a stable relationship between the two, but many mentors opt to stay in the program when their term is up, and McCombs notes that many have stayed with the program all four years since its creation.

Adult mentors must be 18 years of age or older, and peer mentors must be at least 16. Interested parties must submit to a background check and come in for an interview, and once accepted into the program, Goodwill provides training for the mentors. While the process might seem daunting, McCombs and Trimble agree it’s a very gratifying experience. “Being a mentor is not as overwhelming as some people think,” says McCombs. “It’s really simple and it’s really powerful.”

“It’s very rewarding,” adds Trimble, noting that all you have to give is your time. “Our youth are the future, so why wouldn’t we want to help them?” iBi

For more information on the GoodGuides program, contact Elizabeth McCombs at [email protected] or call (309) 682-1113, ext. 2115.