Community Connections: Mentors key to ending poverty cycle
This month, Routt County United Way is highlighting the issue of poverty in our community. While our valley is rich with beauty and all that it has to offer, there is an ugly truth that is easily hidden or perhaps ignored. Not only is RCUW’s “31 Days of Poverty” helping shed light on this issue, but it also seeks to explore community-wide solutions.
Partners in Routt County primarily serves youth whose families are under-resourced or living below the poverty level. Nearly 100 percent of the students served through one-to-one mentoring in our school-based program and 92 percent of the youth in our community-based program are from low-income families. Data clearly shows that youth from low-income families statistically achieve far less education and earning capacity than their more affluent peers.
The disparity between the academic performances of disadvantaged youth compared to non-disadvantaged youth is specifically seen in Routt County schools via the 2014 State Assessments (TCAP) scores. Students who qualify for the Free and Reduced Meals program were twice as likely to score below proficiency compared to their peers not qualifying. This gap in academic success results not only from the negative effects of toxic stress that children living in poverty experience, but also from a lack of adequate resources and support.
Research shows that the keys to helping these students thrive are positive role models, rich experiences and social skill development. That is why the mission of Partners in Routt County is to build resilient youth by creating and supporting meaningful mentoring relationships.
Teachers partner with parents to ensure children get to school on time, do their homework and make academics a priority. However, many parents struggle simply to provide the basics for living, let alone the basics for academic success.
Mentors are a vital resource for these families. Providing children a consistent relationship with a safe, caring adult who believes in them, listens to them, models positive behavior and supports academic success is one way we, as an organization, strive to support these kids children and families. By adding stability and consistency to a child’s life, particularly in the form of an adult mentor, children have a greater sense of pride and responsibility. Knowing that someone cares, supports and wants the best for them adds a level of motivation as they are held accountable for their actions.
We find that many of the youth in our program miss out on rich, educational experiences because they are confined to their homes or neighborhoods due to a lack of monetary resources, supervision and transportation. Exposing youth to new people, places and life experiences helps develop their character while encouraging a love of learning and exploration. Mentors provide opportunities for youth they otherwise might not have.
Success in school and life is not only about cognitive development. Children need to develop critical social and emotional skills, as well. In fact, a study done at Pennsylvania University and Duke last year showed children who scored highly on social skills were four times as likely to graduate from college than those who scored low. Children develop social and emotional skills through role models, guidance from adults and building trusting relationships with consistent, caring adults.
For anyone who is looking for a way to make a difference in the life of a youth who is affected by poverty in our community, we would love to help facilitate that process. All it takes is a few hours each week and a genuine interest in helping a child see and fulfill his or her potential. Learn more at partnersrouttcounty.org.
Becky Slamal, is community outreach manager for Partners in Routt County.
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