Extension Educator Edith Valiquette leads the 4-H Mentoring program. In November, the group started their community service projects and gifts for their family. Each school had a Family Night Out (FNO) in November. At this FNO, family pictures were taken for distribution at the December FNO. This is a popular activity with our families. It is often the first and only family picture they have received. The purpose of FNO is to strengthen the bonds between parent and child. Each FNO has a small meal, fun activity and an educational component.
UConn Extension received funding for this program for year eight, to start on February 1, 2018.
Volunteers are a critical component of the 4-H Mentoring program. Dr. Robert Beaudoin is one such volunteer. He started volunteering with the Connecticut 4-H Mentoring Project conducted at the Waterbury Youth Services, Inc. in 2011. He is the CEO of Beaudoin Karate Academy in Waterbury and has provided the support of his school and trainers at no cost to the participants of the programs conducted at the Waterbury Youth Services, Inc.
Under Dr. Beaudoin’s guidance, the program has grown into a major part of the 4-H Mentoring project, with about 45 youth participating in workshops that meet twice a week throughout the year. Four of his staff volunteer their time as trainers and mentors for the 4-H members, enabling youth to participate in local and regional contests, earn their belts, and demonstrate their skills at agency functions as well as the 4-H Fair.
“I never miss 4-H, my mentor thinks I’m special” says a mentee from the Connecticut 4-H Mentoring project. A parent says, “my child is never sick on 4-H day.” The Connecticut 4-H Mentoring Project is a prevention program designed to assist youth in acquiring knowledge, building character, and developing life skills in a fun learning environment that will help them become self-directing, productive members of society. Waterbury and Bridgeport have participated in the Connecticut 4-H Mentoring Project for 7 years, and are presently serving 120 youth, ages 10-14. The National 4-H Council, through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, funds this program.
Mentoring is a proven strategy for helping at-risk youth achieve a better future. Youth are more likely to succeed in life when they have the additional support of a caring, consistent adult mentor. Sharon Stoyer, Bridgeport site coordinator says, “Mentoring can have a profound impact on a youth. Having a mentor can enhance a young person’s learning skills and help build resiliency and self-control.”
Youth with mentors are less likely to engage in risky behavior with drugs and alcohol. They are more likely to develop positive relationships with peers and adults; hold a leadership position in a club, school council, sports team or other group; enroll in college; volunteer regularly in their communities and grow up to become productive members of society. Mentors provide the spark that encourages youth to dream and achieve.
“Be a Mentor-Change Two Lives” is a popular slogan in mentoring programs. Why? Mentoring does in fact improve the mentor’s life. How? Research shows that mentoring can:
provide a sense of health and well-being;
improve one’s self-image and self-worth;
provide a sense of feeling valued, needed, appreciated, competent, and accomplished; and
provide a sense of satisfaction from giving back to the community, and earning the respect of others by contributing to society in a very important way.
How does the Connecticut 4-H Mentoring Project make a difference? Its goals are to increase the interpersonal skills of selected youth and to strengthen their family bonds through a 12-month mentoring program. The project consists of three components, mentoring, 4-H activities, and family nights. All three collectively contribute to positive impacts. Mentoring and 4-H are conducted in small groups, one mentor to a maximum of four youth. 4-H Mentor groups meet weekly, with activities such as cooking, technology, gardening, crafts, dance, or karate. To be a Connecticut 4-H group in good standing, 4-H mentor groups must keep records; perform a community service project; participate in public speaking activities; and assume leadership for their group’s functioning. Through 4-H group mentoring, youth learn teamwork, critical thinking, public speaking, leadership, decision-making, communication, and record keeping.
Family Nights are a critical component of the program. These nights are designed to foster family bonds through fun and experiential learning. Each night has an activity related either to building trust, family support, positive family communications, working together, problem solving, or family traditions. Families eat a light dinner, complete and process the activity, and have fun. Field trips to the Big E, apple picking, and county fairs also provide an opportunity for youth and their families to learn new things about the world, and each other, while having fun.
All mentors undergo the UConn 4-H volunteer application process, and then receive additional training on how to be an effective mentor. Parental involvement is key to a child’s success. Before joining, mentoring staff meets the parents, explains the program, and the parents’ responsibilities to it.
Realizing it takes a village to improve the lives of youth and their families, the Connecticut 4-H Mentoring Project partners with local agencies to fulfill project goals. In Bridgeport, Barnum and Cesar Batalla Elementary Schools are community partners. According to Margaret Grillo, 4-H Educator and Co-Principal Investigator, “UConn 4-H and Extension has worked with Waterbury Youth Service System, (WYSS) Inc., our Waterbury partner, for over 25 years. Partnering with them augments the impact of grant funds. Adding the 4-H Mentoring Project provides an opportunity for WYSS youth and their families to broaden their horizons with positive involvement in all of the activities, events and training that 4-H Mentoring and UConn 4-H has to offer. It’s a win–win for both agencies, and for youth and their families.”
Every Saturday morning in Bridgeport, 4-H families gather for the Saturday Morning Breakfast Club. During this time, families eat together, have group discussions, and have fun. 4-H staff in Fairfield County created this program as part of its mentoring initiative because it saw the need to strengthen family bonds.
The mentoring program has three components: mentoring, family night, and the 4-H club. Youth are involved in all three activities. Seventy-five youth total are involved in the program and the Extension Office partners with the Regional Youth Substance Abuse Project.
Parents face increasing challenges in providing for their children as wages continue to decline. Some work second jobs while others have enrolled in continuing education courses. When several parents had to miss Family Night Out events for these commitments, we looked for alternative ways parents could participate in the program. And the breakfast club has worked well. The breakfast club has also been a great way to include fathers in the program.
Nearly 20 adults and youth attend this Saturday morning program. The club’s goal is to strengthen the parent-child relationship through group discussion, one-on-one interaction between parent and child, and fun, educational activities. 4-H staff provides a free, full course breakfast made possible by community donations to set the foundation for a better day by nourishing the body.
Each week focuses on a different topic. Some past examples include: creating a collage of their family, family values, trust, communication and working together. Saturday Morning Breakfast Club also focuses on having fun with your family.
During the discussion, a book is passed around that begins with one poetic line. Everyone must write a line of their own that builds upon the line before theirs. At the end of every session, the lines are read aloud and the result is a beautiful poem that sounds as if it were written by one person. The purpose of this activity is to show the inherent and positive connection that exists between people’s thoughts.
The Saturday Morning Breakfast Club has proved to be a valuable way to enhance the mentoring program and increase the family strengthening opportunities in Bridgeport.