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Hastings mentoring program transitions to local control

February 17, 2019

HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) — After a year of changes, one Hastings youth mentoring organization has come out on the other side stronger than before.

“I just love seeing the smiles on our kids’ faces when they see their mentors,” said Teal Anderson. “It’s really exciting and really rewarding.”

In early 2018, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hastings brought in interim director Brady Rhodes as the board of directors was at a bit of a crossroads.

“The organization was at a point: ‘We’ve really got to figure out what we’re doing for the future,’” Rhodes said.

“The organization was struggling from a couple years’ worth of lower revenues than expected and some tough challenges with the national agency,” he continued. “They were asking us to meet some higher compliance standards, and they were increasing some financial requirements we had to make for technology to be under their brand umbrella.”

That’s part of the reason Rhodes was brought in under a one-year contract as an interim director at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hastings. His task was to help move the organization through some major discussions and what became the eventual decision to move away from the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.

“And that ended up being a good decision that’s been well received by the community,” Rhodes said. “They didn’t give us a lot of pushback.”

The 60-year-old Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hastings organization transitioned to a locally operated MentoringWorks, a new mentoring organization with the same mission, goals and programming as before.

Rhodes and his staff told the Hastings Tribune that they believe that the local control has freed them up to do some things to improve their programming and really work with both the mentors and mentees.

The long-standing program is the school-based program which is now called School Connect and looks basically the same as it did before.

Program Manager Teal Anderson said they were able to create more in-depth training for mentors.

“I think our mentors have experienced a little more support from us and a little more guidance when they first become mentors,” she said. “We’re doing more training than we’ve done in the past.”

The Beyond School Walls program, which connected high school juniors and seniors with mentors in business and industry, now is known as Career Connect and has a narrower focus.

Under the former program, Rhodes said, the program was spread a bit thin with students visiting people in a variety of careers, business and industry. It now has been narrowed down to manufacturing, health care and some automotive career areas.

“It was a great idea, great model,” Rhodes said. “It needed some systems put under it to make it successful, and so far it seems we’ve found the right mix. I think that is going to keep being a strong model for the community.”

In addition to bumping up the programming, Anderson said, the agency has worked to increase the number of youth served through the program.

At the end of the 2017-18 school year, the agency had 97 mentor/mentee matches. That number has bumped up to 120, and there are more than a dozen kids waiting now to meet their mentors.

Rhodes said one exciting change with the new program is the goal to have no kid on the waiting list for more than four weeks.

“It’s a significant stake in the ground for us because it means these guys have to have the mentor, do the vetting, do the training, talk to the young person’s parents, do all those pieces and get everybody matched up in four weeks,” Rhodes said. “So far we’ve kept up with it.”

One addition this year is service to the full Adams Central Elementary School. In the past, Big Brothers Big Sisters worked with Wallace Elementary. With the new single-site elementary, the agency now is able to bring in AC high school students to mentor the elementary students.

Anderson said they are also worked to bolster the programs at Harvard and Blue Hill. They also hope to expand into other area rural schools in the next few years.

Rhodes said he believes the growths in the program have been a true testament to the work of the agency and the support of the community.

“I think by growing the class of the program, I think it’s going to double by next year. We could easily have 200 kids between community and maybe add a school or two within next year or year and a half,” he said.

Of course, Rhodes said, that all also depends on the supply of community and school mentors willing to volunteer their time.

Anderson said she is working to create more training for the mentors, including specialized trainings for those mentors who serve kids with autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other diagnoses.

Looking to the future is the key for the staff members as they, armed with a three-year strategic plan, prepare for the addition of their new permanent executive director, Adam Jacobs, who is set to take over in early February.

Rhodes said that while some people may be uncomfortable or nervous about the idea of an interim director, that was the best setup for this transition within the organization.

A permanent director wants to make the program his or her own and put a stamp on it while an interim director is really there just to make sure everything is in place.

“An interim director can come in and just make sure the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed and the strategic plan is in place and then pass it off to someone who can take it and really roll with it,” he said.

Rhodes said while not every piece is completely in place from the transition from the old agency to the new, MentoringWorks still is in a good place for the new permanent director.

“And we’ve had some nice interest from people,” he said. “I think it’s an appealing role with a great staff and a great board.”

Rhodes said he loves an organization like this one where they can have 160 pairs of people who are having literally thousands of experiences every month that better themselves and the community.

“We get to say we got to contribute to those experiences where people get to be together and learn from each other, shift their perspectives and impact their futures,” he said.

Anderson said she loves seeing the impact on the kids when they meet their mentor for the first time or share the story of an experience they had.

“I’m just really excited to be part of it,” Program Coordinator Victoria Korth said of the organization. “We get to make sure it’s going to move forward and grow. This program is going to be here for years to come because of the work we’re doing now.”

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Information from: Hastings Tribune, http://www.hastingstribune.com