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February 24. 2013 11:02PM

Boys & Girls club seeks mentors for at-risk youth

SALEM - A few hours per month can make a world of difference in the life of a troubled young adult.

In an effort to reach out to area teens and preteens in need, the staff at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Salem recently launched a new mentoring program, Relationships, which matches up local adults to serve as friends and role models for struggling students.

The new program fosters high-quality, structured and enduring relationships for youth in the greater Salem community who are most at risk, education director Maria Camerlengo said.

"We're pretty lucky in our community with so many resources available, but there is still a need for this, and there are still kids that unfortunately fall through the cracks," Camerlengo said. "So right now the goal is to seek out those who need us the most."

Though the concept of mentoring is hardly new at the local Boys & Girls Club, the Relationships program takes mentoring to a higher level, officials said.

"It takes a special sort of person to become a mentor," Camerlengo said. "Not everyone is willing to commit their time to a child they don't know."

Still, club officials have high hopes for the new program. They'd like to match up 100 adult community members with 100 teenagers over the next several years. Linking a young person with a mentor is a concept ideally suited to the framework of a Boys & Girls Club, Camerlengo added, since the club already provides a safe positive environment and structured existing programming, in addition to the training, support and activities specific to the Reflections program.

"Matching kids with the perfect partner will really help encourage them to get involved in our programs," she said.

Potential mentors should be aged 18 or older and be ready to commit to at least 18 months of working with their teenaged match, though club officials stressed that mentor could come from all walks of life.

Adults whose career paths have led them to pursue a trade as well as with those whose jobs are in a posh, executive office suite all have something to offer.

"Maybe there's a kid out there who really wants to become an electrician, and there's someone out there who can encourage him to follow that goal," Camerlengo said.

Most of the student and mentor activities will take place on club premises, with planned activities taking place several times per month.

Once a relationship is established, the mentor and student might enjoy pursuing independent activities if the student's parents or guardians don't mind, though outside "field trips" aren't required.

"The idea is to see this child through high school and make sure he or she is headed in the right direction," Camerlengo said. "Mentors will help the child both academically and socially and encourage them to lead a healthy lifestyle, learn life skills and start thinking about the future. A mentor's personal attention and guidance can truly open doors of hope and opportunity."

For more information about the Relationships program or to learn more about becoming a student mentor, contact Camerlengo at 898-7709, ext. 20, or by email at mcamerlengo@salembgc.org.

aguilmet@newstote.com


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