Six years ago, Evan Thurman was in a place of hopelessness, and the people in his life were talking about institutionalizing him. They were frustrated with the then 12-year-old boy and felt like giving up. That was when his mentor, Phil Dietz, came into his life. Since then, Evan has moved from receiving intensive mental health treatment and education at a restrictive school setting to excelling in academics and his personal life.
Mentoring is an effective intervention for behavioral change in kids considered at-risk. Some have said that mentoring children with complex needs can't be done, but 4Results Mentoring's programs are telling another story. 4Results, run by Columbia River Mental Health Services (CRMHS) in Vancouver, Washington, serves children who face significant mental health problems, a population often not served by mentors. While mentoring is a timeless tradition, only recently has it been formalized as an evidence-based practice. 4Results' programs are modeled after MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership's Elements of Effective Practice for both school- and community-based mentoring.
Most of the children CRMHS sees are Medicaid beneficiaries. They often are from single-parent homes, live in foster-care settings, or are being raised by grandparents, and many have been homeless. The children often live in chaos or abusive settings because of adults' reactions to their mental illness. These children often have a degree of self-loathing or negative self-concept as a result of their life experience. Their parents are not always engaged in their lives, and some of their parents are influenced by drugs and/or incarcerated. Every one of these children needs a consistent, trustworthy adult to act as a role model and to help him/her form healthy, trusting relationships.
4Results serves children from all of the child-serving mental health agencies in Clark County, Washington. The Clark County Department of Community Services has supported 4Results' community-based mentoring program since its inception in 2000, and in recent years the state's Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse also has funded 4Results.
In 4Results' community-based program, a volunteer mentor is trained to join the team of mental healthcare professionals serving the child. The mentor, matched one-to-one with a compatible child, becomes part of the child's treatment plan.
4Results' school-based program was designed in collaboration with the Vancouver School District to serve students in the Fir Grove Children's Center. Fir Grove is a day treatment school for children throughout Southwest Washington who have severe emotional and behavioral disabilities. The mentors at Fir Grove are the "third dimension," joining mental health therapists and special education teachers in meeting children's specific needs. The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools provided 4Results with a grant to serve these children.
Would-be mentors go through a strict screening process, and training can take months. Nationally, mentoring programs typically offer volunteers 1 to 3 hours of training, but 4Results' mentors receive up to 20 hours of prematch training and continue with ongoing training and support as they become part of the professional team. Volunteers arrive with caring hearts and the desire to help. They recognize that making a significant difference in one individual life strengthens the entire community. What they often are surprised by is how much their own life is enhanced by the experience.
Rick Collins (r) and Jordan Workman, Washington State Mentors' 2007 Outstanding Mentor/Mentee pair.
Phil Dietz (r), MentorYouth.com's 2006 National Mentor of the Year, and his friend of six years, Evan Thurman.
Deana and Brandon volunteer together as part of their mentoring relationship with 4Results.
"The choice to become a mentor was easy," says Phil. "I wanted to make a positive difference in the life of a child and give him an opportunity to see himself as a vital and important member of the community, for the special person he is. As it turns out, spending quality time and sharing my life and values in a mentoring relationship have changed my life for the better. I have had an opportunity to share a measure of unconditional love, I've been trusted and depended upon. I have made a lifelong friend."