Male mentors can make difference

FAIRMONT — Boys across the country are struggling.

According to the most recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on suicide, males take their own lives at nearly four times the rate of females, and represent nearly 80 percent of all suicides.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as of November 2018, males made up 93 percent of federal inmates.

Struggling boys grow into struggling men, which affects their future families. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 24 million children nationwide do not live with a biological father. A U.S. Department of Education study found that 39 percent of students are fatherless, negatively affecting boys and girls.

One local group — Kinship of Martin County — is looking to help boys connect with positive male role models, but it is not always easy.

In 2017, former Kinship director Anna Garbers noted the need for male mentors.

“Right now, we have 16 kids on our waiting list, and only three of those are girls,” she said at the time. “We have boys waiting in Welcome, Trimont, Northrop, Truman and Fairmont, and that’s our biggest need going forward.”

The struggle to find male mentors continues, according to current Kinship associate director Jen Kahler.

“Our guys list is about twice as long as our girls list most of the time,” she said.

Kinship director Katy Gonzalez elaborated on the issue.

“Sometimes it goes in streaks, but we have ages 11-15 for guys and just a couple that are younger,” she said. “The younger ones haven’t been waiting as long as the older ones. The older guys have been the ones that have been waiting for the two years, and we’ve got three of them that have been waiting for two years or more.”

Kahler said one theory on why older kids struggle to find a match could simply be that they have narrowed down their interests, so are in need of mentors who can encourage and develop those specific areas.

“So maybe their interest set is a little bit smaller than some of the 5- to 8-year-old kids who just want somebody to hang out with and they don’t really care,” she said. “So it may be that there’s a little bit more of a struggle for the older kids because they know exactly what they want out of the relationship.”

Kinship associate director Greg Brolsma said one of the things the program is doing now is shining a light on the positive benefits for all mentors.

“Over time, we’ve pushed Kinship mentoring with what’s the positive impact on kids,” He said. “That’s good and well and it’s what this program is about, but we are being a little more cognizant now of the fact that this is good for our mentors too.”

According to information provided by Brolsma, some of the known positive benefits to mentors include an improved sense of health and well-being; a sense of feeling valued and competent; spiritual fulfillment; gaining deeper insights into one’s own children; and a sense of satisfaction by giving back to the community.

“Everybody wins here,” he said.

For those interested in mentoring, Gonzalez shared some of what the process looks like.

“If people are still interested in mentoring, we still have where they can sign up online if they like,” she said. “It just takes about 10 minutes to fill out the application and we do an interview where we get to know them, different things about their past and things they are passionate about as well. Then we do the background and reference checks, and two-hour training, which goes into what it means to be a mentor.

“After that, they can even start to meet some of the kids on the waiting list until they feel like they’ve made a good fit. Otherwise, we can match them based on the descriptions that we have without the actual names of the kids. It’s as fast or as long as it needs to be. If they’re not fully ready but they want to get to know a child, they don’t have to say yes to the first child that we introduce them to.

“We’re not looking for people who think that they’re perfect and have never made a mistake,” she continued. “This is a wonderful opportunity if you’ve made a mistake in your past, you can use what you’ve learned from that to help another child not make it, or help them through it if they’re in it right now.”