The Mentorship Program exists only at Covenant House Toronto, while Vancouver is in the exploratory phase of creating such an initiative.
Similar to the more familiar "Big Brothers" or "Big Sisters" programs, the Mentorship program matches up youth – primarily from Rights of Passage, the scattered site transitional housing and the Youth In Transition Program –with a mentor. The goal is to give the youth an adult, who is not a staff member, with whom they can build a relationship.
“The mentorship program has been a very blessed experience for me. My mentor is someone I actually do lookup to because my mentor contains the same qualities and traits that I always wish I had. I like that things are going at a pace that I can control because I have too many variables in my life that I have little if any control over and sometimes I feel as if I'm being buried alive. I still have much to work on concerning my character and my aspirations and I know things wont change overnight and I don’t expect them to. I also know that its not my mentor's job to change my situation; it is my mentor's job to help me acquire the tools and/or resources I need to move myself forward which my mentor has been doing. There are many like me in the mentorship program; lost souls who know what they want and have the willingness needed to get there but they lack the means not because we aren’t bright or lack capabilities but we have come from broken situations like homelessness or abuse or disasters that have impaired our judgement and at times crippled our abilities to possess the skills we need to move forward.” — "Aisha", 25, ROP Participant and Mentee
Mentors apply to the program and are interviewed, screened and reference checked. Volunteers go through intensive and ongoing training as well as participate in Mentor Support Groups. They are expected to commit to a one-year timeframe with the program. Once matched, the volunteer mentor agrees to weekly contact (including texts, phone calls and/or emails) with twice monthly meet-ups with their youth.
"The best part of being a mentor is to see how much she's grown since we met. It's like, oh my gosh, the first time we met I did not think the person she is now was under there, or I just didn't know her. But I mean, you meet your mentees faced with difficult situations in life and it's amazing to watch how they face them and overcome the challenges and how they grow." — Danna Brown former ROP mentor
The matches are made through a meet and greet process where mentees and mentors get an opportunity to get to know each other. After some introductory games, they sit down one-on-one to answer questions that are pulled from a jar. At the end of the evening the youth and mentors are able to submit their choices to the Mentor Coordinator. If there is a match, then the Coordinator will connect the two together.
There are very strict rules that are in place for the mentors/mentees to follow during the program including:
- Each person must pay for themselves. This encourages independence on the part of the youth and helps them with their budgeting. It also reduces the likelihood of a dependence upon the mentor for financial offerings.
- The mentor is allowed to share certain personal information but must be aware of what they share. They are not allowed to introduce the youth to their friends/family, take them to their home etc.
- Youth and the mentor must meet in the community, not at Covenant House except in certain circumstances (i.e. the use of the Girl's Lounge at Covenant House, group activities with other mentors/mentees).
Once the program is completed and the youth graduates than these rules are removed as the relationship, if it continues, is solely between the youth and the mentor as independent adults. This often happens –and is indeed, part of the hope of Covenant House — and the relationship is able to evolve.
"When we graduated I knew that it was a fear for her that she'd be on her own and that would be the end of our friendship. And for me, I spent more time with her than so many other people in my life during the course of the year that it was unimaginable that all of a sudden the program would be over and I wouldn't be that support. So, we've continued. It's been about eight months and we still see each other just as much and we're more in touch. And without the boundaries of the program it's more natural and it's shaped into almost a different kind of friendship because there are less boundaries. But I see ourselves, I see us being in each other's lives for as long as she needs me and I need her." — Danna Brown, past ROP Mentor
Homeless Hub Thoughts:
This kind of initiative is extremely beneficial to the youth. It may be seen as an "add-on" to a transitional housing program, and in many ways it is, but at the same time, it is extremely important for the long-term success of a young person. Particularly, in cases of time-limited accommodation, the ability of a young person to develop and maintain a relationship with a community mentor can help their overall success on the path to independence.