Mentor Rhode Island is a matchmaker that pairs kids who need help with adults who aim to make a difference. This 501(c)3 non-profit organization has been the statewide expert in mentoring for the past two decades, and they’re always recruiting new role models to help shape what comes next.
“I think one of the best ways to give back to the community is giving back to kids who are going to impact the future,” said Christopher Margadonna, Director of Training and Engagement at Mentor Rhode Island.
Becoming a mentor doesn’t have to be a total game changer for an adult’s weekly schedule, but it can mean the world to a kid who’s sitting on the agency’s waiting list. Just one hour a week can add up to a long term positive effect that traces back to the lunches and conversations shared between a mentor and mentee.
“I think it really does make a difference,” Margadonna said. “If you’re doing it and you’re doing it well, and you’re putting the kids first and you truly care about them, they are going to know that and they are going to try to do their best.”
What began in 1990 as a local partnership between Warwick Public Schools, MetLife and the Chamber Education Foundation (now d/b/a Mentor Rhode Island) has evolved into a statewide network that coordinates school-based mentoring programs in seven different school systems while supporting nearly sixty different mentoring programs in the Ocean State.
“We are an agency that serves all of Rhode Island on different mentoring best practices,” Margadonna explained. “We are there actually to help mentoring programs be the best that they can be.”
Mentor Rhode Island isn’t just a matchmaker. They help mentoring programs recruit mentors, employ the best screening practices and they offer trainings.
“What’s different about us is that we actually run seven different direct service programs that are in public schools and charter schools across the state,” Margadonna said.
Mentors and mentees each fill out an interest inventory that helps Mentor Rhode Island in the matching process, and those preferences guide them in deciding how and where to match people. The school-based programs encourage a social-emotional connection and aren’t academic or career focused, though there exists basically every type of program available in the Ocean State.
If someone is interested in getting involved, the first step is to head over to the Mentor Rhode Island website and fill out an application.
“People get really nervous to just like, do it,” Margadonna said. “Sometimes, you just have to jump in head first knowing that it’s going to work out.”
Margadonna’s own experiences as a mentor have inspired the work he does at Mentor Rhode Island.
“This is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life,” He said, adding, “I love it very much.”
Margadonna explained that another aspect of matching has to do with the locations of their seven school-based programs, which include Warwick, Cranston, Woonsocket, Aquidneck Island, Pawtucket, Del Sesto Middle School and the Highlander Charter School in Providence.
If a school counselor or principal recommends a child for the program, they may have to wait a year until Mentor Rhode Island is able to find a good mentor in that geographic area who fits the mold.
“It’s getting to build a relationship with that kid and have that kid trust you, so when that kid has a problem, they know who to turn to and ask a question,” Margadonna explained. “They have a trusting adult who’s going to point them in the right direction.”
This fall, Mentor Rhode Island hosted an event where five mentors shared success stories.
There’s the story of Peggy and Korinne, which began when Korinne was a timid third-grader at Warwick Neck Elementary School, and continues today. Korinne followed in Peggy’s footsteps and is now a mentor to a ten-year old girl at her former elementary school – a reflection of how much the experience shaped her own growth as a child who shared life milestones like learning to drive and getting accepted to college with her mentor.
Beth and David met when David was a six-year-old first-grader at Cedar Hill Elementary School in Warwick, and after more than fifteen years, the pair has become like family.
Becoming a mentor doesn’t necessarily mean a lifetime commitment, but sometimes it progresses into one by choice. Mentees aren’t the only ones who can appreciate the special lessons and moments shared, because they too help shape their mentors in ways that leave a lasting mark.
“This is kind of a continuous thing and really helps to change the life of someone, someone who may not otherwise have that opportunity,” Margadonna said.
Mentor Rhode Island has a screening process when selecting mentors. They make reference calls, run a state background check and do a national sex offender search. Some programs will do a home visit or interview, but it’s all about ensuring the safety of the children in the program. Once selected, mentors enroll in a two-hour training before meeting with their mentee.
“We say it’s an hour a week, but in that hour, what you guys do and talk about can be astronomical for that kid and really make a difference,” Margadonna said. “Just showing up, being there and being present really does make a difference.”
Anyone interested in making a difference in the life of a child should call Mentor Rhode Island at 401-732-7700 or check out their website.