Mentors for Youth searching for male mentors

Photosl by Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Julian Salas Rodriguez, 8, of Jasper, left, works on homework with his mentor, Juan Ramos of Ireland, at Juan's home on Dec. 11. Juan has been a mentor to Julian through Mentors for Youth for nearly a year. "It's a way to give back," Juan said. "I had people who weren't my mentors, but they acted like a mentor. And with him, he's kind of in the same boat as me. My mom doesn't know much English and I had to rely on other people. He's kind of the same way. She can't check the homework for him because she doesn't get it."

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

JASPER — Juan Ramos of Ireland, 27, and his mentee, Julian Salas Rodriguez, 8, performed their secret handshake last week after shooting hoops on the basketball courts at Ireland Elementary.

Ramos is part of Mentors for Youth, a local nonprofit that matches kids age 6 and older with a mentor who can serve as a positive role model. Ramos is one of a small number of male mentors the organization works with, as well as one of a few bilingual mentors.

Mentors for Youth case worker Kaiva Hurt said the lack of male mentors isn’t unique to Mentors for Youth or Dubois County. Similar nonprofits across the country experience a shortage of male mentors, and always have.

But the past year put the situation at the forefront for Hurt. Of the 20 mentor/mentee matches the organization made in 2019, only four were with male mentors. Meanwhile, eight boys were matched with mentors, meaning four male mentees were matched with female mentors. For younger male mentees, Hurt said, that’s usually not a problem. But there are situations where Mentors for Youth would only match a male mentee with a male mentor ­— for example if the mentee didn’t already have a male role model in his life ­— and older male mentees generally don’t want to be matched with a female mentor.

“Once they hit about age 13, they aren’t super excited about being matched with a woman,” Hurt said. “They’re really wanting the guy to go do guy stuff with.”

Juan Ramos of Ireland, right, and Julian Salas Rodriguez, 8, of Jasper, do their handshake while playing basketball at Ireland Elementary School on Dec. 11.

For Ramos and Julian, “guy stuff” means having a meal together, catching a movie or, more often than not, playing soccer. Last week, the pair played basketball for the first time, and Ramos said Julian really enjoyed that and wants to do it again.

“I’m kind of like a friend,” Ramos said of his relationship with Julian. “I like that I get to be part of helping him. I see him as a little brother.”

Their time together isn’t all fun and games, though. The pair starts each of their meetups with homework time. When they first met about a year ago, Julian really struggled with reading, so the pair focuses a lot of the homework time on that. Watching Julian’s improvement has been one of the highlights of mentoring, Ramos said.

“Seeing him come up to you and show you his grade saying, ‘See, this is what I got,’ there’s nothing more rewarding than that,” Ramos said.

Ramos and Julian get together about twice a month. Mentors for Youth asks its mentors to meet with their mentee at least twice a month for at least two hours each time, but doesn’t require certain activities. The mentor, mentee and mentee’s parents get to decide what the pair does. For some mentors, Hurt said, it’s a daunting task to have to come up with something to do. To make it easier, Hurt said, the organization suggests simply including your mentee in what you’re already doing. If you’re going to a movie, having a cookout or going fishing, invite your mentee along. Or just ask your mentee what they want to do. That’s what Ramos does with Julian, and it works out well.

“He’s usually pretty vocal about it,” Ramos said.

Ramos encourages anyone thinking about becoming a mentor to do so. It’s been a great way for him to give back and pay it forward.

“I wouldn’t be who I am right now without the people who helped me,” he said.

Mentors for Youth is always accepting mentor applications, which can be found on the organization’s website, www.mentors4youth.com.

Currently, Hurt said, there are 18 children on the waiting list for a mentor, and 12 of them are boys. High school students are welcome to apply, though they won’t be paired with an older mentee. Mentors for Youth also matches mentees with mentor pairs, such as a husband and wife or two best friends, Hurt said.

For more information, Hurt can be contacted at 812-482-2227 or by email at kaiva@mentors4youth.com.




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