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."
4Results' mentors are trained to help children develop long-lasting, trusting relationships. In some cases, the mentor is the only person not paid to be in a child's life. Imagine the impact on a child's life when he discovers that his mentor is not paid to spend time with him. The mentor does not have to be his friend; the child does not have to work on performance-based tasks. The mentor spends time with the child because he wants to. That places a value on the child that he may not have experienced before. Thus, it is no wonder that the mentoring relationship can reach deeper than any other intervention alone.
"Because I've had someone consistent in my life, who has been there as a friend and encourager, I've become a more positive person," says Evan, who has received Youth Achievement Awards from the community for citizenship and community service. Phil was selected as the National Mentor of the Year in 2006 by MentorYouth.com, a collaboration of MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, the National Network of Youth Ministries, and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Another of 4Results' mentor pairs has received recognition recently as Outstanding Mentor/Mentee Pair in 2007 by the Washington State Mentors. The mentor, Rick Collins, and his friend, Jordan Workman, will spend a game day with Portland Trail Blazers Head Coach Nate McMillan, attend the game day shoot around, have lunch with coaches and players, tour the Rose Garden, and have VIP seating at the game. Rick and Jordan were matched four years ago when Jordan said he needed "a guy who's good to me and listens to what I'm saying."
4Results has entered the final year of the Department of Education grant and is working on building a sustainability board to continue support for 4Results. 4Results' goal is to develop a ten-year plan that includes a formal evaluation and research activities useful to the mentoring field. Research in the mentoring field is limited and does not include at-risk populations.
4Results has a seven-year history of working with kids who exhibit acting out or dangerous behavior at home or school, but youths involved in 4Results have not done so when with their mentors. The youths were interviewed by the Institute for Community Inclusion (at the University of Massachusetts Boston), which reported, "Students often seemed clearly conflicted about their behavior and their time with their mentor released them from their own cycles of misbehavior and punishment and was a relief to them." 4Results believes that behavioral issues are a result of unmet needs, which stem from loneliness and isolation. Yet when a child is with his mentor, he is no longer lonely or isolated. He is with someone who wants to be with him, someone actively engaging and listening to him.
In conclusion, I leave you with the words of nationally prominent youth care trainer Charlie Appelstein, MSW: "I recently had the good fortune of spending some quality time with 4Results mentors and was deeply impressed with their passion for providing meaningful connections in the lives of at-risk youth. Many of these kids are lonely, riddled with self-doubt, have low self-esteem and have lost hope for a better life. A mentor who truly believes in the goodness and strengths of an at-risk youth can change all of this."Elizabeth Higley is Program Coordinator of 4Results Mentoring at Columbia River Mental Health Services in Vancouver, Washington.