Charity

HOW Could Mentoring ‘Change Your Life’?

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About 7 years ago, a friend suggested my son register for this “awesome” new program starting at our local YMCA for teens to teach swim and water safety skills to kids with special needs. I raced him to an evening of training so he could start immediately the following weekend. Looking back now, I had NO IDEA what an impact it would make on my family.

It was not always convenient to break up a Saturday with a 1pm volunteer commitment after two swim practices a day, school work and the need for a social life with my first high schooler. There were times I dragged him there reminding him of his commitment and the importance to give back. No parent should feel guilty their child has to LEARN to be compassionate and giving—it’s not natural for most teens; especially in this ‘immediate gratification/all about me’ generation. Quickly, by about the third week of working with the same child, my son had a connection that drove him there, literally.
The program grew and evolved and relocated, suddenly both of my girls were involved in “Kids2Kids”. To watch your own children blossom from nervous newcomer who doesn’t really understand special needs to being comfortable with so many disabilities to actually training other teens and organizing the program each week is nothing short of amazing. To witness the personal connection your child develops with a special needs child who does not appear to communicate well proves that ‘love’, ‘care’ and good intentions need no words. I always describe the program as “humanity at it’s best”. Teens are choosing to volunteer their weekend time with special needs kids without judgment, stereotypes or stares. It is a safe place for every kid to be themselves and realize that we are all the same, just in some brains, things fire differently.

This program is run by a Founding Board of various students in the school district who meet monthly to plan the weekly sessions and direct how the program will grow. The Board of Trustees (involved parents) ensures the organization complies with non-profit regulations. My children have grown into spokespeople for the organization presenting to local Rotary Clubs for funding and recruiting new mentors. They are ambassadors for inclusion in school by consciously engaging with the special needs kids they see at lunch on their own or checking on them in gym class.
In this day and age of Snapchat and Instagram and every new social media site that rips attention from anything except a smart phone, mentoring, inclusion and mainstreaming is the nucleus of all new programming in our community. Our high school swim team added a final event: Special Needs 50 meter Open Swim. A few of our team members will fill the additional lanes of the pool to make a full heat of swimmers to compete in the final event. BOTH teams, all coaches and the entire spectator stands are on their feet cheering for the swimmers. There is incredible energy and pride that ends each meet. Other teams like Track are now attempting similar events. High school students have started a program called “All In” that includes games at lunch time for special need students. Any student that has time to come play with them is welcome. Middle school students have a reading and Arts and Crafts after school program for fourth to eighth graders to mentor other students ‘on the spectrum’. Mentoring can be implemented at any age with almost any activity. ANYTHING that develops skills and enhances human connection is an opportunity for kids to learn from other kids.

Our Saturday morning Special Needs Swim Program’s success has grown into other programs such as Tae KwanDo, Yoga (which parents choose to do along side their child), Soccer, Golf and Basketball. Currently there are over 100 mentors registered and trained for these programs and many mentors participate in more than one activity!

But the REAL win-win comes true at high school graduation time. Mentor hours have been totaled for the prestigious Presidental Award, scholarship applications based on student leadership have been won, understanding of ‘different’ human beings is actualized, relationships have been created, special needs families have been changed for the better with the regular stress relief the program offers parents and these young adult mentors head to college or their next step after experiencing compassion. If we can’t get our youth to FEEL compassion for others, how can meaningful change begin? It takes less than a 30 minute news broadcast to desensitize us to horrific acts of violence and hate that humans are capable of on a daily basis. If these 100 student mentors have had one session with a special needs kid and internalized the reality that every human has a heart and hearts can speak without words, they will continue to shine patience and understanding today’s world desperately needs.

So THIS is how mentoring can change your life.

About ilink2media

iLink2Media is an International online platform that specializes in spotlighting the art of giving back. We are dedicated to promoting, encouraging and supporting Global Citizenship from Philanthropists, Executives, Politicians, World Leaders and Celebrities that relentlessly uplift various communities and make a positive impact on the lives of others.

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