January is National Mentoring Month and Talbot Mentors is inviting members of the community to make new year’s resolutions to become mentors. An open house on Tuesday, January 12, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the organization’s new location on Maryland Avenueprovides an opportunity for those interested to learn more about the program.
Talbot Mentors has grown steadily since its founding in 1997, expanding both the number of children in the program and the support services it offers. It now serves more than 60 students in Talbot County, matching volunteers with children who can benefit from having additional adult friends in their lives.
Those volunteers are the heart of the organization and come from all walks of life within the community. Businesspeople and retirees, men, women and couples have all offered their time to befriend children in the program.
Each mentor has his or her own personal reason for volunteering. It can be something as simple as a desire to give back to the community or as complex as filling an empty-nest void. Dennis Stolte says he was looking for a “buddy.”
Married, without children, and retired from a career in government relations, Stolte had read articles about mentoring and had friends in the Talbot Mentors program. He thought about it for two years before finally deciding to give it a try.
That was almost four years ago. Stolte’s “buddy” since then has been 15-year-old Devon Greene.
“The neat thing is the amount of thought and work that goes into matching the mentors with the students,” said Stolte. In most cases, students are matched with same-sex volunteers, which can be a challenge, as there are usually more boys in need of mentors than male volunteers available.
The matching process then goes further, taking into consideration mutual interests, background and other factors. “They even try to think about travel time, so there is less inconvenience or cost in getting together with your mentee,” said Stolte, impressed with the care taken by the staff.
Stolte and Greene both grew up on farms and share a love of the outdoors. Spending time hunting and fishing together, Greene said, “It’s mainly just fun stuff. It’s great to have someone to do something with.”
“Mentoring isn’t complicated,” explained Stolte. “Most of us had an adult outside our family who provided friendship and stability to us when we were kids. That’s the most important thing about mentoring—being a friend to a kid.”
Often, new mentors make an effort to make changes in their mentee, expecting to have an immediate impact on the child’s life and outlook. Stolte advises other mentors not to do too much too soon. “You are not going to change a kid’s life overnight,” he said. “You are not a parent, but a friend.”
Stolte recalled his early expectations of turning Greene into an honor student. “It was too much pressure and I backed off,” he admitted.
“A lot of people are intimidated by the thought of being a mentor,” said Stolte. “It’s only spending a little time, being an unconditional friend, and being supportive.”
For Greene, it means “more stuff to do” and new experiences. He reported that he bagged his first deer while hunting with his mentor. He even has found additional mentors in Stolte’s friends who join them on hunting trips.
While mentors only commit to spending an hour or two each week for a year with their mentees, Stolte and Greene usually find themselves spending much more than that together. Enjoying bike riding and other sports in addition to hunting and fishing, they say it is easy to find things to do.
The organization sponsors activities throughout the year in support of the matches. There are service learning projects for students in which mentors may participate and special events for mentor-mentee pairs.
Mentors-only activities provide opportunities for volunteers to meet, exchange ideas and give support to each other.
Like many other mentors, Stolte reports having his own life enriched by the relationship. “Devon has mentored me, too,” he said. “He taught me how to ‘text.’ He advised me that men older than 55 probably shouldn’t wear shorts cut above the knee.
“He’s taught me patience and understanding that I wouldn’t have acquired otherwise, because I don’t have kids of my own. He’s my best buddy.”
For more information, to make a contribution, or to volunteer as a mentor, call Talbot Mentors at 410-770-5999 or visitwww.talbotmentors.org.