Stars program provides adult mentors

Published 9:04 am Wednesday, January 18, 2017

January has been declared National Mentoring Month in Albert Lea. For one local program, the month signifies the work its volunteers do throughout the year to help youth.

The STARS Mentoring program provides adult mentors to children ages 7 to 17 in Freeborn County and eastern Faribault County.

Mentors must be at least 18 years old, pass a background check, have three references and submit an application. Project Coordinator Mary Jo Volkman interviews mentors, then she matches them with adults whose children are on the program waiting list.

“The mentor is a model for these children,” Volkman said. “They help model the way life should be. Some of these children are at risk, and they just need somebody that will listen to them and talk to them and do fun things with. They are their friend.”

Mentors and mentees have similar interests and are expected to meet for about two hours per week, Volkman said.

“Mentoring can help prevent behaviors like drugs, alcohol, skipping school, that type of thing,” she said.

Volkman works with Albert Lea, Alden-Conger, Glenville-Emmons and United South Central schools to refer students to the program.

“We work with the schools and the social workers and teachers in order for them to refer children they may think need a mentor,” she said.

Volkman enjoys her position.

“It’s such a good feeling,” Volkman said. “One of my best days in this job is going out to do the match meeting, where the child is matched with the adult volunteer mentor. And you go out to the house, and the child is just so excited to see this new person in their life that’s going to communicate with them and do fun things.”

She recalled the case of a 10-year-old girl who visited Albert Lea Public Library for the first time with a mentor in the six months she had lived here.

“Just those connections that children and adults get,” Volkman said. “That really makes me happy.”

Twenty students and 17 mentors are in the program in the Albert Lea area, Volkman said.

The program is mostly funded through a youth intervention program and receives Freeborn County community grants and other local grants.

The program operates under a board of directors that meets once a month.

STARS offers a group event every six to eight weeks. STARS is collaborating with The Albert Lea Art Center to offer a Paint and Pastries program Jan. 28. The group plans to go bowling this winter and could watch a movie at Wells Flame Theatre. The group visits the Freeborn County Historical Museum & Village and Brookside Boathouse each summer.

Anyone interested in becoming a mentor can call Volkman at 507-383-5272.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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