Burlington, VT—MENTOR Vermont recently awarded four COVID-19 Response Grants, totaling $174,014, to youth mentoring agencies in rural communities in northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast Vermont. This one-time funding in response to the pandemic comes from a larger, $1.25 million three-year federal grant that the Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF) and MENTOR Vermont received from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to provide mentoring services to youth (ages 6 to 17) living in rural Vermont communities inordinately impacted by the opiate epidemic.
These four grants include: A $50,000 grant to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Vermont (to support programming both in the Northeast Kingdom and in Windham County); a $50,000 grant to The DREAM Program (to support programming in Bennington and Windsor Counties); a grant of $26,416 to Franklin County Caring Communities (to support the Watershed Mentoring program in Franklin and Grand Isle Counties); and a grant of $47,598 to the Mentor Connector (to support their mentoring programs in Rutland County). This funding is designed to allow mentoring agencies that were candidates to be a part of the larger three-year grant to have the financial support they need this summer and fall to maintain their current matches and further adapt their models to address new needs posed by the pandemic, and create a successful infrastructure for expanding their mentoring services to more youth in the coming years.
“Youth mentoring program leaders and their mentors have been steadfast during the pandemic and have continued to support young people under unprecedented circumstances,” said Chad Butt, Executive Director of MENTOR Vermont. “We want to do everything we can to support their work and are grateful for OJJDP and DCF’s flexibility with this funding, which will help serve an urgent need while also setting up the project for long-term success.”
Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the State of Vermont and MENTOR Vermont adjusted the scope of their grant from OJJDP to be responsive to the immediate needs of mentoring agencies serving underserved rural communities in the originally proposed four regions of Vermont, the Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest, which includes nine counties: Bennington, Caledonia, Essex, Orleans, Franklin, Grand Isle, Rutland, Windham, and Windsor. Mentoring programs have needed to shift their staff time to provide additional support to their existing mentor matches to ensure that their youth participants are able to lean on the consistency of their established relationship with their mentor, even if they aren’t able to meet in person. For programs this has meant devising new and creative means for communication between mentors and mentees, increased frequency of check-ins with all constituents, additional training for mentors, and adjustments of policies and procedures. Additionally, the current pandemic has meant programs had to temporarily pause starting new matches while procedures were updated, and agencies have also struggled to fundraise for their programs’ operational costs.
OJJDP’s original grant award to DCF and MENTOR Vermont was designed to provide mentoring services to youth living in rural Vermont communities affected by the opiate epidemic, and increase the number of total youth served by 200 over the course of the grant period. Over the past five years, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy has advocated for expanding the eligibility for the national OJJDP youth mentoring funding to allow for grants to go toward supporting rural states like Vermont that have been disproportionately impacted by the opiate epidemic. DCF and MENTOR Vermont became eligible to apply for funding because of a new category that allows a state government agency to receive a grant and sub-grant it to other agencies that can meet the needs of smaller, local communities.
About Mentoring during COVID-19: According to the “Mentoring Effect,” a study released in 2014 by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, one in three youth in Vermont will enter adulthood without having a formal or informal mentoring relationship with a caring adult. Given the social isolation and trauma caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, mentoring is more important now than ever. Mentoring programs in Vermont have implemented creative ways for matches to continue meeting remotely from writing “pen pal” letters to each other to video chatting and virtual activities. The majority of mentoring programs have also taken on new responsibilities to support mentees’ families during the crisis, including assisting with food and internet access, providing COVID-19 information in languages other than English, distributing masks, and helping to support mentees’ virtual education. As the state reopens, programs are now beginning to offer the option for matches to being meeting again in person while meeting physical distancing guidelines. For more information about MENTOR Vermont’s response to COVID-19, visit www.mentorvt.org/COVID-19.
About MENTOR Vermont: MENTOR Vermont supports 140 adult-to-youth mentoring program sites that serve 2,300 mentor pairs throughout the state. In addition to managing the OJJDP Vermont Mentoring Project and the Vermont Mentoring Grants, the organization provides technical support to mentoring program staff, maintains an online program directory and referral system for volunteers, manages a quality-based program management database, raises public awareness of mentoring, works with programs to ensure they are meeting best practices, and leads statewide mentoring initiatives. For more information about mentoring programs and initiatives in Vermont, visit www.mentorvt.org.