Q&A Tuesday: Program for children in need of volunteers

Ruth Gordon, a Carson City native, became director of the Mentor Center of Western Nevada program five years ago. The Mentor Center, a recipient along with Western Nevada Community College of a federal grant to mentor children of prisoners, is on WNCC's Carson City campus. About 300 children have family members in three Carson City-area prisons and one work camp. See www.wncc.edu/mentor on the Internet or call 445-3346 for information.

What does the Mentor Center of Western Nevada do?

Mentoring has been a practiced art of developing and maintaining positive and helpful human relationships for hundreds of years. We offer one-to-one partnerships between a school-age youth and caring adults of good character that focus on the needs of the child. The goals are to improve self-confidence, social competence and caring on the part of those we serve.

Are there any children waiting to be matched with adult volunteers?

We have 13 boys on our waiting list and no male volunteers. Boys tend to be referred more often because of the need for a male influence, somebody to play ball with or talk with about "guy things." We always have a need for female mentors.

What does someone need to do to be able to be a mentor?

A potential volunteer can go to our Web site and download a mentor volunteer application or call the office. The mentor attends a three-hour orientation class and a two-hour class with the Nevada State Department of Corrections regarding what a child might be facing if his or her parent is incarcerated. Volunteers must complete state, federal and FBI background checks.

How many children does the Mentor Center serve, and what are their age ranges?

We currently have 55 youth in matches. The youth range in age from 6-18, with most in the 10-13 age group. Our numbers are only limited by the number of adult volunteers.

When and how did the Mentor Center start?

Seven years ago, a group of graduates from the Carson City Leadership Alumni took a look at gaps in youth services in Carson City. They found that there was a need for one caring adult in the life of each youth. From there, it was a true communitywide collaboration, with financial commitments from the city, the school district, Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center and Western Nevada Community College.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Nevada were selected by the Community Council on Youth to administer the program, which was modeled after Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America. As we have grown, we have been able to hire Bill Bley to work part time at the center assisting in case management.

How much time do mentors spend with the children on a weekly basis?

Mentors are asked to spend a minimum of one hour a week with their youth for a minimum of 12 months. Less than this is not only not beneficial, but actually harmful. Many of our youth have adults in and out of their lives, and we want to be an adult they can count on for the long term.

Is there a typical volunteer?

A "typical mentor" can only be described as someone who has room in their heart for one more person. We have mentors who are doctors and lawyers, high school seniors, business owners, housewives, grandmothers and everything in between.

What's the largest benefit to the child in this program?

Having a caring adult in your life reduces the onset of unhealthy behaviors such as substance abuse and school drop-out rate. If you ask a youth what the biggest benefit is, he or she will tell you "they get to have fun."

What's the most surprising thing you've experienced since becoming involved in the program?

Not only do mentors feel they are doing something good, they are excited at how they have relearned how to play. So often we get too focused on producing that we forget to take a moment to enjoy life - to go fishing, to throw a ball around, to remember what it is like to cook a meal together.

The girl I have been mentoring enjoys grocery shopping, cooking at my house, and sitting at the table for a family meal. The simple things are the most rewarding for these kids.


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