Lehigh Acres is one of 32 communities across the nation selected to participate in a Reach & Rise Mentoring Program through a $5 million grant. In fact, Lehigh is the only community in Florida selected by the YMCA.
Donna San Salvador is the local representative, who is in charge of the Reach & Rise Mentoring Program, and is looking for mentors in Lehigh Acres who can devote time to a youngster for a year. Mentors, both male and female adults are needed to interact with young people between the ages of 6 and 17, who are residents of Lehigh.
"I think that is great that of all the communities where mentoring is needed, Lehigh was chosen," Salvador said.
Donna San Salvador
Salvador, who is a registered mental health counselor intern with a degree in counseling, in addition to her responsibilities in working with the mentoring program, said there is a 15-hour professional training program and that those who want to be mentors to selected children are screened and interviewed by her.
"We're looking for that special person who wants to inspire a child and make a difference in that child's life.
"Close your eyes and think back to when you were young and who you most admired. Think of the great things this person did to influence you to become who you are today. That is what we are looking for, those people who can bring positive influences on our young mentees," she said.
Children who will be chosen to be mentees come from referrals from schools, and other organizations in addition to parents.
She said the mentoring program is about two hours once a week for a full year and there is a one-on-one relationship.
"Mentors are matched up with children who could use the experience and interests of a mentor. Women are teamed up with both girls and boys while male mentors are teamed up with boys.
"What do you like to do? Play ball? Taking a child to a ball game or fishing with him, or playing games with him. The same with a girl, a woman may like sewing and teach the child to sew, go shopping, go out on an outing. These are experiences to build confidence and self-esteem in a youngster who needs the mentoring," she said.
Training for mentors includes three hours once a week over five weeks and is done in the Community Room at the East District Sheriff's Office on Homestead and Plaza Drive in Lehigh.
Salvador said she talks to youngsters and their peers, to teachers and others all the time when she is in town.
"I am able to get around and I can find youngsters who would be good mentees and get great help from a mentor who can change the course of a child's life," she said.
While she is not under the umbrella of the YMCA in both Fort Myers and Bonita, she is still a part of the overall YMCA and its program that originated in California.
"I also track the progress. I work with the family, the children and the mentor, so we all know how the program works," she said.
"We set goals to be reached by the mentees. Children's school marks often improve as does their self-esteem when they have a mentor who is someone who really cares about helping a child."
Mentors and their mentees may have the full use of the YMCA in Fort Myers without any charge, she said. She added that the Y has been interested for a few years now in locating a YMCA here. She said many youngsters in Lehigh already take advantages of the programs of the YMCA in Fort Myers.
"But it takes time and money to accomplish that project, but it is something the YMCA is thinking about," she said.
In essence, the Reach & Rise Mentoring Program is a national YMCA program designed to build a better future for at-risk youth by helping them reach their full potential through the support of caring adult, volunteer mentors.
Mentors will meet with their matched children during the week throughout the year and engage in meaningful activities and interact with mentees in a therapeutic way, helping them move from risk to resiliency.
Salvador said youth referrals are taken from school counselors, family service staffs, juvenile justice authorities, military personnel, concerned family and community members and there is no cost to the children who are accepted into the program.
Mentors are 23 years and older with a desire to work with youth. They must pass background checks at no charge to them. Mentors complete the 15 hours of mentoring training provided by Salvador on behalf of the YMCA.
The program has been so successful that it is being continued this year and Lehigh is the benefactor, Salvador said.
Children to be mentored come from a wide range of ethnic diversity and socio-economic backgrounds. Many of them experience low self-esteem, social isolation, family problems and other stressors. Many are involved with or at risk of entering the juvenile justice system. Many come from single parent households, from families that are overstressed and overwhelmed in handling a child.
Donna San Salvador is in Lehigh at her office at the Lehigh Community Services complex on Plaza Drive on Tuesdays from 1 to 4:30 p.m. and on Wednesdays from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Private personal interviews are held there.
Other ways to apply to be a mentor include going online to: www.swflymca.org/mentor. Salvador said men and women prospective mentors can interact on the page by filling in an application.
"But people in Lehigh can also walk in during the days I am here. I think this is a great program for Lehigh and I am looking forward to it being a success," she said. And with Salvador, there are no failures. She exhibits a positive mental attitude who is truly interested in helping youngsters in Lehigh.
"This is a serious program than can bring great rewards to the mentors and to the mentees and the community. Let's make it happen," she said.