New Circle Mentoring program seeks mentors, donations for growing need of at-risk youth

Mary Falcon, Executive Director of the Safer Society
Erika Linskey, Director of the New Circle mentoring program

By LEE J. KAHRS

BRANDON – In a world where advocates are hard to find and harder to keep, where the most vulnerable are keen for guidance and support, there is New Circle Mentoring.

The program launched by the Safer Society Foundation in Brandon is entering its third year, but Executive Directive Mary Falcon said a new direction requires outreach, and mentors and donations are needed for the program to fulfill its mission.

Success breeds new a direction

For the last 30 years, the nonprofit has quietly published books, journals and other materials for clinicians and professionals on the prevention and treatment of sexual abuse and social violence.

As the press has become more successful in recent years, Falcon said she and her board wanted to find a way to give back.

“We wondered how we could use the money to give back to the community and do charitable giving,” she said. “The reason we stared the mentoring program was partially because we’re unknown in Brandon. We wanted to be more involved in the Vermont community in general, and that’s when the program came out.”

In 2017, Safer Society launched the New Circle Mentoring program to help match mentors with at-risk children of incarcerated parents. The press had experience with that segment of the population through its publication subject matter.

“We had been working with and learning about working with these types of kids, victims of ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences,’” Falcon said.

It’s a formal, clinical term and refers to a specific list of 10 possible childhood traumas:

Experiencing physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, witnessing violence in the home or community, having a family member attempt or die by suicide, substance abuse in the household, mental health problems, instability due to parental separation death or abandonment, and having an incarcerated household member.

But the nonprofit needed a clinical support partner to help facilitate the program, and reached out to the Counseling Service of Addison County (CSAC).

“We started with kids in central Vermont with incarcerated parents, and we knew we needed the support of people who understand how to work with these kids,” Falcon said. “These are the kids who drive mentors away because they are difficult and challenging.”

Falcon met with CSAC Director of Family Services Cheryl Huntley to explore the possibilities.

“When we met with them, they jumped at the idea,” Falcon said. “They donated the services of staff member Dottie Neuberger to be our clinical director.”

Skip to last year, and the New Circle Mentoring Program expanded to include children within the state’s foster care system who have not been placed in a home. The ages of the children range from seven to nine.

“These are troubled kids, in and out of foster homes, being bounced around the system with no fixed address,” Falcon said. “When we say ‘at risk,’ it’s challenging to mentor them, yet they need it more than anyone. The just need one adult in their lives that they can depend on, so we try to provide that consistent support with the mentors.”

There is a long line of kids waiting to be matched with a mentor in thee New Circle program. Now, Safer Society needs to find the right people to become mentors, and the funding to keep the program alive.

Mentors needed

Erika Linskey is the director of the New Circle Mentoring program. She reiterated that the most challenging part of the program isn’t the kids — it’s finding the right people to be mentors.

“There are a lot of kids who could use a mentor, but our issue is, before we even approach a parent or guardian, we want to make sure we have a mentor,” she said. “So, we’re not signing up any new kids until we know we have the mentors. We’re not getting their hopes up until we know.”

A person needs a certain skillset to have any success mentoring these at-risk children. There is also a rock solid, long-term commitment required, three to five years, and that commitment is renewed annually. The program is seeking people who have had extensive experience with children, such as retired teachers, social workers, counselors and coaches.

“We look for mentors who are capable of understanding the level of commitment to these kids, have a lifestyle where they can devote the time and who are in the community so they can devote the time long-term,” Linskey said. “But it’s a fairly simple concept. We ask adults to support children and their growth.”

Falcon said not all who apply to be mentors are qualified.

“We may have people come, but we turn them down because they don’t have experience with troubled kids,” she said.

Mentors meet with their mentees either at school or out in the community once or twice a week for a minimum of one hour per week and minimum of four hours a month. Mentors provide transportation for the sessions and work with the child’s guardian to set up the activity for each session. There are also group mentoring events three times a year, such as field trips, tennis lessons at Middlebury Indoor Tennis, an excursion to Addison County Fair and Field Days and a visit to the Shelburne Museum.

At first, Dottie Neuberger reached out to people she knew and trusted in Addison County who would be good mentors, but Linskey said now more mentors are needed, and the program needs to get the word out.

Support from within, and beyond

For those considering becoming a mentor, Linskey wants them to know they would not be operating in a vacuum, that there are supports within the program to help navigate the experience successfully. Mentors make weekly reports through an online log after each mentoring session. Neuberger is available on call if mentors have an issue. There are also mentor workshops twice a year where mentors get together and support each other.

“We recruit them, we train them, and we work together,” Falcon said

She said the other key part of working with the Counseling Service of Addison County is that they are directly tied to every school in Addison County.

“Each school counselor is a CSAC employee,” she said, “so we can coordinate with each counselor.”

Falcon was asked if Safer Society would expand into Rutland County, but she said the level of interest from a potential clinical partner has not been as high as it is with the Counseling Service of Addison County.

“We’d like to go into other counties, but we need that support and we weren’t getting it,” she said, “so CSAC deserves a lot of credit for this program. We need that clinical support but we can’t find that in Rutland County or any other nearby county.”

The bottom line

Falcon said her board at the Safer Society Foundation is extremely supportive of the New Circle Mentoring program and its funding, but more help is needed.

“We are committed to this program and have supported it financially, even when we weren’t making enough to support it,” she said.

Linskey said some of the program’s expense are covered by grants from organizations like the Vermont Community Foundation, The Vermont Children’s Fund, Mentor Vermont grants, and Ben & Jerry’s. But what New Circle Mentoring needs now, besides mentors, is a steady funding base.

“We would like to start building a donation base from the community,” Falcon said. “But we can’t expand until we get more mentors.”

Linskey said this unique and necessary program will grow out of sheer need, but expansion will serve everyone involved.

“We’re hoping 2020 brings some interest in our program and can keep going,” she said. “We need mentors, we need donations, we need to keep this program thriving.”

To inquire about becoming a mentor, call call Erika Linskey at The Safer Society Foundation, 247-3132, or email her, erika@safersociety.org.

To make a donation to New Circle Mentoring program, go to: pages.donately.com/safersocietyfoundation/campaign/safer-society-foundation

Or mail donations to Safer Society Foundation, PO Box 340, Brandon, VT 05733.