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Connections builds relationships one child at a time

Providing mentoring to youth between the age of 6-18 is a crucial part to helping at-risk children gain self-esteem and confidence and enhance their development. The Holmes County Juvenile Court's Connections program is designed to match willing mentors and youth.

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Creating a kind, nurturing safe haven for a youngster deemed at risk can be an intimidating step for an adult, but when a connection is made, mentoring a child for just a small amount of time each month can make a world of difference.
 
Connections, a mentoring program operated through the Holmes County Juvenile Court, was designed to provide guidance, leadership, support and encouragement in a young person’s life. In a time when many youth are left to fend for themselves without the support, love and encouragement they need, mentoring is needed more than ever.
 
Connections has been around for some time, but a waiting list for mentors continues to grow as referred at-risk children continue to await quality mentors to connect with the children.
 
“I don’t think a lot of people in Holmes County are aware that the program even exists,” program coordinator Miranda McCullough said. “I know we have a lot of people in Holmes County who care deeply about our youth and their well-being, but there is not an awareness that this mentoring program is here, and it can have a huge impact on young people’s lives.”
 
What concerns McCullough is there is currently a waiting list for mentors, mainly featuring younger males, and Connections can have a major impact on children between the age of 6-18.
 
Mentors are not asked to make a huge commitment for the program. It is four to eight hours per month, which is only one or two hours per week. It can be as simple as taking them to a ball game, going bowling or swimming, taking a picnic, or having them over to bake cookies that can in turn be given to others.
 
McCullough said there are countless ways for mentors to give a little bit of themselves to better the lives of the youngsters.
 
The purpose of Connections is to provide nurturing and supportive mentors who will create a meaningful relationship with the youth.
 
“It’s about spending a little bit of time with a child and showing them you care about them and are willing to make a connection to improve the quality of their life,” McCullough said. “These mentors are being role models for the youth.”
 
McCullough said each child is referred to the system, and while they may be referred, they must be willing to be a part of the system before they are accepted. That means they want to be there.
 
“The heart of this program is about relationships, and in order for that to happen, it takes a commitment from both sides,” McCullough said. “Otherwise it is a waste of time. Some of these kids are willing to take that big step in their lives to develop a relationship.”
 
McCullough said the easiest way to become a mentor is to simply schedule in the hour or two during the month. She noted that a schedule makes it easier to set time aside, and the child will then be able to prepare themselves for it as well.
 
Each mentor goes through a training process, and the juvenile court does a home visit to make sure it is a safe environment, but she added that Connections does provide additional support to mentors so they don’t feel like they are out on an island.
 
“It is a team approach,” McCullough said.
 
Mentoring is all about taking time to connect, making an honest effort to make that time meaningful, showing trust to a child, maintaining an optimistic and caring attitude, and persevering to create that wonderful relationship that can often lead to much more than an hour or two each month.
 
She went on to note that while many kids have school groups, 4-H, church youth groups, athletics and other activities that provide fun and build relationships, some youth aren’t involved with those things and need an adult mentor in their lives.
 
“It’s about involving them in life and providing encouragement in a young person’s life, and it doesn’t cost a lot of money to do that,” McCullough said.
 
What makes the program so great is that while the mentors sign on for an hour or two each month for one year, she has seen some incredible relationships grow to the point where the mentor and youth have gone on to develop a lasting relationship.
 
“We’ve had kids term out of the program at 18, and they have mentors who still stay in touch and make sure they are finding ways to be successful and productive,” McCullough said.
 
In addition she said she has heard stories of how youth have turned to their mentors in times of need, whether for advice or to change a spare tire. That goes to show the impact that mentoring can have on a child.
 
Whether it is planting a garden, building a birdhouse, visiting the park or library, ice skating, or teaching a youngster to bake or sew, the ways mentors can positively impact a young person’s life are many.
 
Holmes County Juvenile Judge Thomas Lee stands behind the Connections program 100 percent. Although he must be stern with youth, McCullough said Lee has a huge heart for the well-being of every child, and that makes him quite passionate about the success of the Connections program.
 
He recently spoke to all of the mentors about the work they do and the importance of their efforts.
 
“It’s all about the little things in life that we oftentimes take for granted that can have the biggest impact on a child’s life,” McCullough said. “Not only is it a way to give back to kids, it is a great way to show them how they can be giving.”
 
Anyone wishing to become a mentor or anyone seeking more information may call McCullough at 740-294-3339 or email her at mmcullough@co.holmes.oh.us.
 

Published: October 11, 2017
New Article ID: 2017171009959