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Mentorship initiative designed to meet community needs

Theresa Hawkesworth

Lighthouse Publishing December 13th, 2000 Edition

COUNTY - A new initiative is creating a web of mentoring relationships within the community.

 Sponsored by the Community Health Board (CHB), the community mentorship initiative is designed to improve the overall health and well-being of children and youth while benefiting the entire community.

 "It really is a health promotion activity," said Sue Bookchin, chairman of the CHB's youth committee. "Building relationships, sharing skills and building a sense of community enhances the level of health people have and the health of our community which is probably our primary mandate."

 The project was developed after the CHB was approached by Sharing Strengths: A Child and Youth Health Strategy, a national research pilot project sponsored by the Western Regional Health Board and funded by Health Canada's health transition fund. Its mandate was to build on community strengths to promote the health of children and youth.

 As a result, the board's youth committee called a meeting of interested organizations to discuss the possibility of developing a project with a similar goal. The process involved identifying needs and setting priorities.

 "The thing that came out loud and clear and of the highest priority was the lack of co-ordination of services for youth," said Ms Bookchin adding that many groups were duplicating their efforts. "This was an opportunity to combine resources and combine ideas and work together to collaborate in some way."

 A working group then created a proposal for the community mentorship initiative.

 "Fundamentally it's about a web of mentoring relationships between children, youth and adults at all stages of life in ways that meet the needs of children and youth," she said. "We're hoping this is a framework that can be continued to be used in our communities after this official project is completed."

 The project will identify needs and make links to meet needs in the community. The first mentoring relationship has already been established. Several members of the youth support foundation have volunteered to mentor children and youth from the Family Support Centre's new satellite office in a Bridgewater apartment complex. Adults, including the foundation's executive director, will also provide support.

 "A mentor is a person who provides support and nurtures the growth of someone else," said Mary-Jo MacKay who's co-ordinating the initiative. Other connections are also planned. "We would like all of our community mentorship initiatives to meet a need in the community."

 Ideas generated during the first training session for mentors included rebuilding and painting the apartment's playset, and cleaning up garbage in the area. Training centred around the concepts of mentoring, leadership and team building.

 "Young people are thinking about community issues, what it is to be a citizen of this community," said Ms MacKay.

 Several groups including the South Shore Big Brothers-Big Sisters Association, Family and Children's Services, Chester Family Resource Centre, South Shore Alternate School, the Nova Scotia Federation of Home and School Association, law enforcement and recreation agencies and Addictions Services have already joined the web. The group expects more than 500 people to be involved with the mentorship initiative within a few years.

 "It really is very much a consortium," said Ms Bookchin.

 It's a shift in the paradigm of how organizations work. They'll be working collaboratively, as part of a network, she said.

 "We think that's a huge departure from how things generally operate. The impact is huge on an enormous amount of people," said Ms Bookchin.

 "We're expecting long-term and lasting benefits."

The Community Health Board is sponsoring a new program designed to improve the overall health and well-being of children and youth while benefiting the entire community. The Community Mentorship Initiative will create a web of mentoring relationship within the community. Above, Candice Guitare and Ashley Jordan were two of the youth involved in the first mentor training session which centred around the concepts of mentoring, leadership and team building.

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