Mentor Norman connects residents to community engagement

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Megan Sanders made the announcement about the initiative Mentor Norman during the United Way of Norman's 2018 Day of Caring event. Mentor Norman helps volunteers discover local mentoring programs.

Mentor Norman is not an organization, but from an idea and a hashtag it's looking to inform about mentor needs and change mindsets.

Two Norman Moms, who saw the need for something to get residents involved as mentors with all kinds of organizations, spearheaded the initiative. Megan Sanders and Chassidy Satterfield kicked off Mentor Norman in 2017 with a passion to help, and it partnered with agencies in 2018.

"I have no desire in creating an organization, I just love our community. I think it's a pretty amazing community in a lot of different aspects," Sanders said. "What we want to do is expand the number of people in Norman currently mentoring."

Mentor Norman is partnered with Big Brother Big Sisters of Oklahoma, Bridges of Norman, Center for Children and Families, Community After School Program, Loveworks Leadership Inc., Norman Public Schools and Court Appointed Special Advocates for children. These organizations assess the need they have for mentors and share that need with Mentor Norman who spreads the word.

Currently more than 600 children are waiting to be matched with mentors, and Sanders said they are filling less than half of those positions. She said there is a need for a significant amount of help, and being a mentor is something anyone can do.

Sanders said making sure being a mentor is relatable to the entire community was one of her passions when she developed Mentor Norman. Mentors can be young, old, single, a couple, college students, someone in retirement, someone with a full-time job -- anybody can do this, she said, adding it's not hard.

"In my mind the point of working with people that need resources within the nonprofits is ideally breaking the cycle," Sanders said.

Blossom Crews, area director for Big Brother Big Sister, said they have 80 children who are either ready to be matched or are in the enrollment process. Sanders said in the Norman community numbers like that are unacceptable when there are many capable adults who can help.

Bianca Gordon, director of career coaching for Bridges of Norman, said the reality is most Oklahomans live in nontraditional homes with just 39% of residents living in traditional homes. She said nontraditional homes run the gamut from single-parent homes to blended homes or co-parents or grandparents, and these are homes where mentors are needed most.

At Bridges, she said, they will see students come from households whose families are homeless, or have parents or guardians with substance abuse issues, or whose parents are incarcerated and sometimes an intersectionality of all of those.

"So, we know that the solution is pairing them with a mentor, and pairing them with mentors means better outcomes for at risk students and better outcomes for students who are not at risk," Gordon said.

Sanders said people who don't volunteer to be a mentor typically say they are too busy or they aren't good enough. However, she said anyone from any walk of life can carve out time to help a child just experience life.

"Some of our top volunteers are the busiest people," Crews said "They are the most impressive ones, because they have said that's not going to get in the way."

Brittany Hunt-Jassey, executive director for CASA said, society has almost glorified the use of the term busy in a way that's problematic for organizations like theirs who are trying to recruit busy people. She said there's a problem with absenteeism, but there's an even more pervasive problem with presenteeism, which is where someone goes to work and they are checked out.

"When I talk in the community, I talk about the opportunity for engaging in your community as a way to combat that absenteeism," Hunt-Jassey said.

Satterfield said it's important for mentors to realize that they don't have to plan specific things for their student, but rather let them experience everyday life. She said she takes her students to the grocery store, soccer games, the movies or out to eat, but they just tag along with her family and experience life.

"We can all carve out a couple of hours, and share that with friends and family and different organizations, because it's really not that hard," Satterfield said.

Carolyn Le, operations manager for Loveworks said, it doesn't matter what home a student is from or what background they have, they need a mentor. She said they need someone to step into their life and be there for them, just be an ear to listen and care.

"I think a lot of people assume that they need to plan some extravagant outing, but it's really not like that. They just experience life with you," Le said. "I think that's a sense of normalcy and you just bring them into your inner fold and you are in the family."

For those interested in finding a mentor position through Mentor Norman, visit unitedwaynorman.org/mentornorman.

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