Iowa is one of the nation’s leaders for volunteerism but an official with the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service says more help is urgently needed in one area — mentoring our youth. Mary Sheka, director of the Iowa Mentoring Partnership, says a study finds more than nine-million children are considered “at-risk” nationwide and the numbers are just as staggering in Iowa. “We just know there are tens of thousands,” Sheka says. “We talk about one in three children growing up without a mentor. Really, we’re just talking about youth in general. It’s not just at-risk kids. Every child needs to have a caring adult in their lives that is willing to help them grow up to be self-sufficient, responsible adults.”
When hearing about being mentors, many people will think of Big Brothers-Big Sisters, but Sheka says there are around 80 other mentoring programs statewide, based in schools, community groups and faith-based organizations. “Really, the requirement is to be a caring adult,” Sheka says. “There are no special talents or abilities someone has to have. Just that they are interested in being that caring person and making a difference in the life of a child. Of course, there’s an application process and safety standards that programs need but just wanting to make a difference in the life of a child is the main requirement.”
Mentoring is proven to increase school attendance, academic achievement, social behaviors and responsible decision-making. Sheka says the mentors also reap benefits, with a new perspective on many issues, including their own standing in life. With many tens of thousands of Iowa children in need of strong role models, she says more Iowans need to step forward. “Right now, with our certified mentoring programs, we know we have over 8,000 mentors,” Sheka says, “but obviously, with those numbers, there’s still a huge need with youth on waiting lists in these programs across the state.”
A report released in December by the Corporation for National and Community Service ranked Iowa 7th in the country for the percentage of residents who spend time volunteering. Learn about the many mentoring options at: www.iowamentoring.org.