Friends First Outing at Mercy Home Fun for All

Friends First Outing at Mercy Home Fun for All

The Friends First workplace mentoring program participants recently came together for an outing at Mercy Home, which followed up on the success of last year’s event. The West Loop Campus gymnasium played host to an afternoon of basketball, volleyball, and dinner.

“The kids are always really excited about coming to Mercy Home,” said Katie Gunter, manager of the Friends First Mentoring Program. “They’re used to going onsite to the corporate sponsor and meeting in more conference room-type spaces. It’s nice having an opportunity to mix it up a bit with some recreational activities utilizing Mercy Home’s facilities. And it’s always a fun time that the youth look forward to. It’s a highlight of the year.” 

In the workplace corporate mentoring program, Mercy Home matches youth from St. Malachy School with coworkers from two corporate sponsors, TransUnion and Faegre Drinker law firm. The youth, who do not live at Mercy Home, are usually referred to Mercy Home and Friends First by their school as someone who could benefit from mentoring. Still, some learn about the program on their own and ask to participate. 

…and helps them know that they’re part of that larger Mercy Home community, which helps build that sense of belonging, one of our program outcomes.

The seventh and eighth graders are paired with TransUnion employees while fifth and sixth graders are mentored by staff at Faegre Drinker. The mentoring sessions take place at the corporate site twice every month.

“We facilitate all of the activities, mostly a combination of one-on-one activities with the mentor and the youth, but there’s also group activities as well,” Gunter said. “Typically, all the sessions are on-site at the corporate office. But then last year was the first year that we had one session on site at Mercy Home. … It’s just a nice change of scenery and an opportunity to do different types of activities that help us strengthen those relationships. It also introduces the kids to the Mercy Home space and helps them know that they’re part of that larger Mercy Home community, which helps build that sense of belonging, one of our program outcomes.”

Mercy Home’s gymnasium also allows the kids to do more active activities with their mentors and they get to see each other out of their normal routines. Last year, they enjoyed a basketball game in which mentors played against the kids. 

“I felt like that was a real turning point for the relationships to be able to break the ice even more and see each other in a different element,” Gunter said. 

Gunter has been in social work and youth development for almost 20 years. Before coming to Mercy Home, she worked for a few other mentoring programs and came to Mercy Home about 10 years ago to work with the Friends First program. 

The corporate mentoring season begins at the start of October and runs through June, when participants conclude the year with a barbecue celebration at Mercy Home.  

I felt like that was a real turning point for the relationships to be able to break the ice even more and see each other in a different element.

In the workplace program, there are roughly 10 kids and 10 mentors who are paired together in each of the TransUnion and Faegre programs, making for 20 mentoring matches in total this year.

“We look at the needs of the kid and what are the strengths of the mentor that they’re bringing and what their interests are,” Gunter said. 

The mentors appreciate the chance to give back to the Chicago community. 

“A lot of our workplace mentors have kids and because they’re able to do this while at work, it allows them a more feasible option for mentoring, when they might not be able to commit to community-based mentoring which requires weekend availability,” Gunter said.

The mentoring program addresses a need for youth who may not need full-time residential care at Mercy Home, but who could still benefit from having a caring adult in their lives. It’s a preventative approach as well as an opportunity to reach out to the community. 

For the rest of the year, participants will explore career paths, taking a cooking class and exploring healthy boundaries. TransUnion will also lead a session on financial literacy. 

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