At PYD we are always recruiting dedicated mentors and young people with disabilities to participate in our programs. The pandemic has shifted the way we recruit for mentors, participants, and other volunteers, but with the help of our AmeriCorps Ambassadors of Mentoring (AAOMs) Elizabeth Gray and Kellianne Doyle, our mentor programs continue to thrive virtually.
AAOMs dedicate one year of service to an organization to improve mentoring programs based on research practices. They also work with other Corps members on Massachusetts community service projects in mentoring. This is PYD’s ninth year collaborating with AAOMs.
Usually, when AAOMs help with mentoring recruitment, they do in-person activities. For example, they meet with university employees to recruit students to sign up as mentors, or they interact with parents and potential participants to tell them more about PYD programs, such as Access to Theater. Due to COVID-19, they’ve shifted their strategies to improve virtual recruitment and ensure youth with disabilities are still able to participate online.
Elizabeth first became involved in PYD as a youth participant in high school, and after she graduated college she decided to take on the AAOM role. “It’s been really interesting to see PYD from a youth’s perspective and then the faculty perspective,” she said. Elizabeth focuses on recruiting high school and college students for different PYD programs and is a mentor and mentee herself, giving her a unique perspective of both roles. She’s loved every minute of it because she enjoys communicating with parents and young people, and those experiences have strengthened her communication skills.
Elizabeth’s biggest challenge is getting technology for young participants to join PYD programs. “We have a lot of young people who don’t have the financial ability to buy a computer, a hot spot, or something that’s not their cell phone,” she explained. “We’re finding that people who only use cell phones aren’t gaining that same experience that people with computers or tablets are.” Because of this, she’s figuring out the best communication platforms for each participant to gain independence and thrive during the pandemic.
Kellianne was already involved with AmeriCorps after graduating college, and once she discovered PYD, she thought it would be interesting to join as an AAOM. “I love PYD,” said Kellianne. “It’s the most self-care conscious job I’ve ever had because everyone is so supportive. It’s really lovely and I’ve learned so much from the staff.”
Kellianne focuses on online community and one-to-one mentoring recruitment. “Usually with recruitment you’re going to places, meeting people, hanging up flyers in the community, but with COVID-19, that all transitioned online,” Kellianne said. “So now, it’s really been about reaching out to different institutions in the areas that we service and asking them to include recruitment flyers in newsletters they’re sending out or to-go bags in libraries.”
Kellianne pointed out that many participants want to see themselves represented in their mentors, such as through gender identification, race, or language. The majority of PYD mentors are college-aged white women, so she’s working on expanding the diversity of mentors.
Elizabeth and Kellianne both strongly encourage others to become mentors, especially during the pandemic. “People are lost and they don’t know what to do,” Elizabeth said. “Their mental health is shattered, and I think that just having someone to talk to is so important. If you’re thinking of being a mentor, just go for it.” Mentoring will continue to be important as COVID related restrictions ease and people start getting together again.
“Mentoring is super important and rewarding, but it’s also a big responsibility,” explained Kellianne. “A lot of people have misconceptions and ideas of what our disabled community looks like. While you’re in the intake process, you should ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this’ and ‘What am I expecting?’ Mentorship is not the path of a savior and heroism – it’s a relationship that’s two-sided. It involves respect and understanding.”
Thanks to Kellianne and Elizabeth’s contributions, more young people with disabilities are empowered with skills to lead independent lives filled with pride and purpose.
If you’re interested in volunteering as a mentor or signing up as a mentee, contact PYD today.
This article was written by the BU PR Lab.