Nara Bopp-Williams has been a mentor with Grand Area Mentoring for seven years. What she enjoys most about it, she said, is that mentoring connects her to the larger Moab community: it gets her out of her silo, she said.
“I always feel much more connected to the community when I’m involved, in any way, with the schools and kids and families here,” she said. “It gives me a lot of insight into what it’s like to grow up in the community and what issues everyone’s facing … and on a more personal level, it’s a nice escape, it’s one hour a week where I get to do crafts and be immersed in total-child-brain-imagination-time.”
Bopp-Williams’s current mentee is six years old; they usually spend their time together doing crafts like painting or creating things with clay and beads, but also play games together. Her mentee is extremely outgoing, and loves “having a random adult in the community that she can claim as her own,” Bopp-Williams said.
Bopp-Williams works in mental health and addiction treatment at the Moab Regional Hospital and said she thinks it’s incredibly important for everyone in the community to try to get the fuller picture of what it’s like to live in Moab.
“[Mentoring] gives me some insight into how we can all work harder to be better aware of our community and provide resources when needed,” she said. “… It helps me be a better person.”
January is National Mentoring Month, and on Thursday, Jan. 26, Grand Area Mentoring is hosting a new member orientation. The mentoring program always has a need for more mentors: last year, they served over 60 kids.
Daniel McNeil has been the program director at Grand Area Mentoring since its inception in 2005 when the program received funding from a Department of Education Grant. Since then, Grand Area Mentoring has grown exponentially: it’s expanded the number of mentor-mentee matches; added off-school-campus mentoring field trips; and developed community-based mentoring activities, where if a mentor has been with the program for a year and a half, they can meet with their mentee at approved locations in the community.
The community-based activities are aimed at teen mentees: a few years ago, Grand Area Mentoring found that many middle- and high-school-aged mentees dropped out of the program. By changing the location, so kids didn’t have to be mentored at school, many more kids opted to stay—the program is serving 40% more teens than they were five years ago, McNeil said, and the average match length between mentor and mentee is now nearly four years. Mentors and mentees have traveled to interest-specific locations, like a mentor who took her mentee to a giant chess set because he loves chess, but also to sponsored locations like Raven’s Rim, a zipline company that invited matches to participate in zipline tours. Grand Area Mentoring also owns a fleet of bikes that matches can take out together.
“One of the reasons Moab qualified for that initial grant from the Department of Education is the socio-economic status of our community: at that time, around 50% of the students at our schools were qualifying for free and reduced lunch,” McNeil said. “And even now, 93% of the kids in our program qualify for free and reduced lunch … We’re bringing those kids who maybe need some luck in their lives, we’re bringing them together with mentors who have the knowledge, care, and kindness to share with them.”
The kids who become mentees are typically recommended to the program by their teachers, who recognize which students “may benefit from a little extra support,” McNeil said, though parents can recommend their children as well. The kids have to opt in, too, and if there is an available mentor, they’ll be matched up.
McNeil listed some of what kids have said about their mentorship: “[My mentor] knows all my problems and she makes me feel whole inside,” “I love spending time with [my mentor] because I feel loved,” “[My mentor] is a nice guy, he inspires me, and I don’t know where I would be without him.”
“Mentors can teach practical life skills, in addition to providing emotional and social support,” McNeil said.
New mentors have to commit to at least one full school year with their mentee: data shows that a mentor-mentee relationship that lasts less than six months can actually be worse for children than if they never had a mentor at all, McNeil said. The time commitment with mentees is at least one hour per week, and Grand Area Mentoring consistently provides a number of trainings and resources to their mentors.
The easiest way to get started as a new mentor is to attend a new mentor orientation. The next one will take place on Thursday, Jan. 26 from 5 to 7 p.m., covering what mentoring looks like and how to do it well. The event is obligation-free: anyone who attends won’t automatically be expected to become a mentor. To register, contact Grand Area Mentoring at 435-260-9646 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.