By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
Cheryl Abramson is a matchmaker. She isn’t setting people up on dates, but she is helping pair up mentors and mentees for Jewish Family Services’ Community Mentoring Program.
After spending 40 years matching employees and employers in the career placement field, she said her role as Mentoring Program Coordinator is something her career prepared her for.
“We try to match people together with similar interests and personalities,” she said. “It’s a wonderful program. It’s the best job I have ever had. Helping these kids and these families is really rewarding.”
Kids between the ages of 6-18 that reside in Boca or Delray can apply to receive a mentor. Abramson said many of the kids come from single parent homes, but that isn’t a requirement.
The program is funded by United Way and the Children Services Council.
Mentors are volunteers who want to be paired with a mentee. They undergo an application and rigorous screening process as well as take and complete training courses. Abramson interviews them and works to pair them with a mentee who would be a good match. Families looking for mentors also fill out an application.
Currently, there are 29 pairs. Mentors must complete four trainings a year, each lasts an hour and a half. Topics include recognizing stress and mental illness and how to build a rapport with your mentee.
Mentors must commit to the program for one year and spend four hours a month with their mentee.
“It’s being a good friend,” she said, adding many mentors take their mentees to do things they don’t typically get to do.
The program hosts about four social events a year for the mentors and mentees to attend. There was a holiday party at Putt’n Around, bowling outings and a trip to a Marlins game.
“We have amazing people who are our mentors,” she said. “They are so committed to the children. They are making such a difference in their lives. It’s wonderful to watch.”
Ana Lara has been a mentor since this summer. She walked into JFS to help with another program, Meals on Wheels. It was during her interview that she learned about the mentor program.
“I have had a wonderful experience beyond my expectations,” she said.
She said her nearly 7-year-old mentee Meila is a free spirit who loves to explore the outdoors with her. They spend time at parks bird watching with binoculars, singing and practicing gymnastics.
“She is absolutely adorable,” she said. “The whole program has been very rewarding for me and for her.”
Lara said she feels like she is a part of her mentee’s family. She was invited to her mentee’s birthday dinner with her family and she said she can’t wait to attend.
“I look forward to spending years with her,” Lara said. “I want to grow with her as she grows. That’s the goal, to be in her life.”
She said she was looking to get involved in something that was a commitment not just something she does when she has a free afternoon.
“I have to make room twice a month to see her for three to four hours,” Lara said. “I didn’t want to just take one day. I wanted something that was a priority and a part of my life and this little girl is a part of my life.”
Mentor Rob Tanenbaum has been spending the last 14 months with his mentor, Gio, a 12-year-old boy from Delray.
In the beginning of their relationship, Tanenbaum said visits were spent doing things like going to Dave and Busters or an FAU football game. Now, those visits have turned into cooking meals at home, swimming in the community pool and reading.
“I have been trying to stress academics with him,” Tanenbaum said.
He said finding a balance between mentor and parent is tough.
“Just being there and being dependable is an important factor to many of these kids who are from single family homes,” he said. “There was a period this fall when I was away on an extended trip with my wife and I was stunned and pleased when I got home by how much I was missed.”
He, too, is in it for the long haul.
“You aren’t getting into this for a year or two,” he said. “You should be getting into it for a minimum of 5 years and if you are lucky 10 years.”
He said anyone considering mentoring should give it a go, if they have the time.
“You don’t have to have parental experience to be a good mentor,” he said. “Its your personality and your love of life that is the most important thing to interject to a young kid.”
January is Community Mentoring Month. For more information on getting involved, visit https://ralesjfs.org/volunteer/community_mentoring_program/