Celebrating National Mentoring Month with Friends First
January is National Mentoring Month! This month celebrates how mentoring changes the lives of countless young people and provides them the support they need to thrive. Launched in 2002, National Mentoring Month focuses attention on the need for mentors and encourages all of us to work together to increase the number of mentors.
Mercy Home has long been doing its part through our Friends First program, which matches a child with a well-trained volunteer mentor. In pre-COVID times, (as pictured here) our matches went on fun outings to museums, parks, and places where they could try new activities like archery or bowling. Though meetings have now turned virtual during the pandemic, our mentors still provide these children with the support and attention they need.
I wanted to connect with someone and add value in their life and develop a nice relationship that would be beneficial to them and myself.
Jenny O’Flaherty, a mentor to Melissa, signed up to be a mentor two and a half years ago. Her sons were older and she wanted the opportunity to connect with a younger person who might benefit from having a mentor.
“I was at the point where I wanted to continue to give and provide experiences or opportunities for people who might not be as fortunate to do some of the things that my kids were able to do,” she explained. “[I wanted] to connect with someone and add value in their life and develop a nice relationship that would be beneficial to them and myself.”
Jenny and Melissa have a great relationship that has continued to grow during their time together.
“It’s great to see her grow up,” Jenny said. “She started out a little bit shy, but the more we talk, she’s more open and asks me questions.”
Jenny and Melissa also really enjoyed the many activities they were able to do together. Because of Jenny, Melissa experienced countless new things.
“I’ve had a lot of fun experiences with Jenny,” Melissa said.
“It’s really fun to go out of my house and experience things I would probably never do on my own.”
Some of their favorite things they’ve done together prior to the pandemic include going to a Blue Man Group show, trying archery, going bowling, making pottery together, going to the arcade, and just doing simple things like sitting at Panera talking. These trips have even inspired Melissa to continue seeking out new experiences.
“It’s made me want to explore more and make more friends,” she said.
Even though their visits have moved to only video calls these days, Jenny and Melissa are making the best of it and taking the opportunity to be creative and connect in a different way. Katie Gunter and other Friends First coworkers have helped by suggesting activities, and Jenny has also tried to come up with fun activities to do together virtually, like making cookies.
And though it’s been difficult, Jenny and Melissa are both trying to focus on the positive.
“One benefit is that we’ve been able to actually discuss things in depth and just focus on that [more so than when we’re doing activities together],” Jenny said. “So that’s been good.”
Melissa added that she also likes the opportunity to just talk with Jenny.
“She’s really funny,” she said.
In addition to being a guide to new and fun activities, Jenny also serves as a form of support and guidance for Melissa—something she takes very seriously.
“I’m another means of guidance if she asks for advice on something or just another someone to sit and listen to her about things and give her a different perspective,” she said.
Jenny added that she would encourage others to consider being a mentor for Friends First.
“It’s been nothing but a great experience,” she said. “I would highly recommend it.”