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January 14, 2013 / Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce

Chamber member, Klingberg Family Centers, seeks volunteer mentors

This article appeared in The New Britain Herald on Sunday, January 13, 2013 9:58 PM EST.  The article was written by Staff Writer, Lin Noble.

klingberg family centersNEW BRITAIN — Invest as little as three hours a month and you could change a life.

Klingberg Family Centers are seeking volunteer mentors who are at least 21 years old and are willing to give as little as three to seven hours a month to a youth who can benefit from a caring friendship.

“You don’t need a lot of training; it’s mostly just being there,” said Rebekah Behan, youth services coordinator for Klingberg. In fact, each mentor receives two hours of pre-service training, as well as ongoing support from a caring staff.

“Klingberg is there to support the mentor,” said David H. Tompkins, vice president for program services.

“I’m not sure if there’s anyone who, thinking back to their youth, can’t think of someone, perhaps a teacher or a coach, who said something positive that set them on the right track,” said Mark Johnson, vice president of Klingberg.

A mentor could be that person to a New Britain area youth, just by grabbing a bite to eat with him, going to a Rock Cats game or regularly picking up the phone.

A mentor is a resource person, someone outside the young person’s everyday life — and unlike other grown-ups in a residential or foster home, someone who is not paid to care about them. That can be a real trust-builder for some children.

“It’s just a great thing to do,” said Behan. “It’s important just to be there.  Behan acknowledges that, initially, both the mentor and the mentee may be fearful of the new relationship, but the agency will support mentors to help the youth in any way they can.

“We get and give the most information we can. Some kids can look scary on paper, and then you meet them and see why there is so much joy in being a mentor,” she said.

Klingberg works hard to match kids with someone with whom they can make a connection.  “We want kids to have some say” about who they are matched with, Behan says, but she adds that Klingberg tries to select someone the mentee needs in his or her life.

For example, one boy wanted a female mentor, based on fear — perhaps bad experiences with men in his past — but they matched him with a male with whom he had a lot in common, including an interest in computers, because they wanted to give him a positive male experience.

Another girl had been in both residential and in foster care.

“She doesn’t stay in one place for long,” Behan explained, adding that she has now moved back in with her mom.

The mentor was able to stay connected with her by phone and text and became the person she talked to about her decisions and struggles.  “The mentor has been the constant in her life,” said Tompkins.

In addition to providing guidance, Klingberg tries to support the relationship by providing donated tickets to local events.

“The Rock Cats have been great,” said Behan.

And it hosts group activities, so mentors can talk to other mentors while mentees share with each other what is happening in their lives.

“One place that has been very supportive is Bowlarama in Newington,” she added.

To volunteer to be a mentor, you must be at least 21 years old and willing to spend three to seven hours a month with a youth for at least a year. Klingberg will perform a routine background check and provide training. To volunteer, call Behan at (860) 243-4416.

Klingberg welcomes the support of businesses and others who can’t commit to a monthly routine. Donations of tickets to local events, such as the Connecticut Science Center, Mt. Southington Ski Area, sporting and entertainment events are always welcome. To donate, call 860-243-4416 or email rebekahb@klingberg.com.

January is National Mentoring Month, a time when we honor the men and women who, in the words of President Barack Obama “enrich the lives of our young people and fortify the unbreakable bonds between one generation and the next. … A supportive mentor can mean the difference between struggle and success.”

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