I became a youth mentor in January of this year. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. While some may hold the misconception that only the mentee benefits from the program, they are wrong. These last six months as a youth mentor have helped me develop and bridge the gap between the person I am and the person I want to be.
I came across the Peer Project - Youth Assisting Youth organization while searching for social service jobs on charityvillage.com. I am a recent graduate from the Social Service Worker program at Centennial College, and I had not been successful in finding employment in the field. I decided that getting some type of volunteering experience would benefit in expanding my career options. I also thought this would be a great opportunity to get involved in the community.
The Peer Project - Youth Assisting Youth organization matches youth mentors, ages 16-29, with newcomer and at-risk kids, ages 6-15, in a one-on-one peer mentoring relationship. It has developed a customized program and uniquely recruits, assesses, and matches youth based on personality, interests and location.
This mentoring program is built on the foundation of prevention; prevention of gang involvement, homelessness, dropping out of school and engaging in negative behaviour. Junior clients are referred by social agencies and guidance counselors. No one is forced to participate in the program, so the youth are aware of what they are agreeing to.
The process of applying and getting matched with a youth can vary. It took me a week after training to get matched with someone in my community. The process includes orientation, mental health training, home visit and match visit. Then it is just you and your youth.
Once the match visit is successful, you meet the youth and their parent/guardian. Then starts the journey of a youth mentor. The Peer Project requires a minimum of 3 hours per week. You keep in contact with the parents/guardian to arrange a schedule and plan activities that would work for all the parties involved.
I was matched with a 13 year old student in my community. Most weeks we go to the community library since he enjoys learning and reading books. Would you believe I got my first library card this year at the age of 25? I never knew what I was missing out on as I now really do enjoy going to the library.
We have also been to the Ontario Science Center, Dave & Busters, Toronto Zoo, Aga Khan Museum, and other tourist attractions across the city. Would you believe that this was the first time I’ve gone to these places?
Some weeks the 3 hours do not seem like a lot. Although my life has been very busy this year, making time for youth remains very important to me.
Other than my parents and older cousins, my only other positive role model was a mentor named Chris. The words he used to tell me before he passed away still go through my head every day, and that is why I am where I am today. The positive effect he had on me when I was younger is the reason why I want to reach out to today's youth and leave them with a positive impact. You can read more about him at "Don’t Stop Until You Find Happiness”: Lessons a Gangster Taught Me.
I urge anyone and everyone from ages 16 -29 to check out The Peer Project – Youth Assisting Youth. If you are interested in becoming a youth mentor, this is a great organization to get involved with in Toronto. Mentoring relationships are a shared opportunity for learning and growth.
I hope my mentee finds me beneficial to look up to and be supportive him, and I can feel my own self-esteem, confidence and personal growth rising from this mentorship experience.