Recently, Kaela Vronsky (National Center director) was invited to contribute a guest blog post for the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth). You can find the original article at the NCWD’s website, and the full text is provided below:
Founded in 1985, Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD) has been a leading voice in the field of mentoring youth with disabilities. PYD’s Mentor Match program is a community-based, one-to-one mentoring program that serves Boston area youth with disabilities ages six to 24. In 2005, PYD established the National Center for Mentoring Youth with Disabilities to meet requests from organizations throughout the country seeking to learn from PYD’s experience. Since that time, trainees have included Boys and Girls Clubs, Girl Scouts, Big Brothers Big Sisters, YMCAs, City Year, and State Vocational Rehabilitation Offices. Starting a training branch has forced us to reflect carefully about how our program differs from mainstream mentoring programs. Here are some insights we have gleaned.
Youth with disabilities are at higher risk than average of being bullied, dropping out of high school, getting involved in the juvenile justice system, being unemployed, and living in poverty. These disparities clearly indicate a need to train mentors how to address these risk factors from a perspective of prevention as well as intervention. Related issues of societal discrimination and fear, disability disclosure, cognitive and physical accessibility, and transportation must be addressed at all stages of participant involvement as well.
These factors are very real and essential to address. It may surprise some, however, to hear that serving youth with disabilities is not that different from serving those without them. To start, all mentoring programs must take great care when establishing participant expectations. They must also do their part to facilitate crystal clear communication between mentor and mentee, anticipating and eliminating any chance of miscommunication. And mentors of all youth must be encouraged to adhere to the following points:
- Notice your mentee’s unique assets, talents, and aspirations above all.
- Never doubt how far your mentee can go, regardless of any visible or invisible limitations.
- Note and respond accordingly to varying communication styles.
- Be creative and flexible when an obstacle arises.
- Teach your mentee how to do things rather than doing it for him or her.
- Put yourself in your mentee’s shoes, but avoid making assumptions, particularly when it comes to his or her independence. Always ask if you are curious or unsure about what your mentee is going through or how you might best be of service.
- Don’t mistake a lack of expressiveness for a lack of feeling. Your mentee may not always demonstrate that they care, and this is not to be taken personally.
Working with youth who have certain diagnoses can be scary for some staff and volunteers. Remembering that many of the same principles apply when matching all youth with mentors can serve to alleviate fears and thus open the doors of mentoring to those who need it the most.