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Mentoring programs help Holyoke youths

Date: 2/1/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE — Mayor Alex Morse benefitted from having a mentor and he thinks others young people from the Paper City could benefit as well.

Morse announced a proclamation that made January in Holyoke as "Mentoring Month" at a press conference on Jan. 28 at Holyoke Health Center that focused on several mentoring programs that are already operating in the city as part of Mass Mentoring Partnership (MMP), a statewide organization.

According to information supplied by the MMP, more than 70 percent of the young people who are in mentoring programs show an increase in self-esteem and hope in their future, an improvement in academic performance and attendance and a decline of risky behavior. Currently, about 20,000 youths in the state are part of mentoring programs.

Ann Burke, vice president of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts and the only board member of MMP from the region, said that mentoring plats "a critical role and responsibility each of us have."

In Holyoke, there are about 100 children participating in formal mentoring programs operated by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampden County, The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holyoke and Girls Inc. of Holyoke.

Eileen Cavanaugh, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club, said the pilot program her organization is running with students from William Dean Technical High School in conjunction with the Holyoke Health Center (HHC). The Dean Tech Career Pathways Mentoring Program matches students who are in the health careers program at Dean Tech and places them with mentors from HHC.

Cavanaugh call the program "very innovative" and that it could be replicated in other businesses. George Barton, the Business Development director at HHC praised the pilot program.

"We believe the strongest investment we can make is on our community,' Barton said. "It made sense to continue our investment in the local workforce."

There are four tenth and eleventh grade students currently in the program.

Financial support from the business community is important to mentoring efforts and the $50,000 donation from First Niagara Bank was acknowledged. The donation is helping to fund mentoring programs in Western Massachusetts where the bank recently expanded. The funding will assist in underwriting financial literacy workshops as well as raising public awareness and a mentor recruitment campaign.