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Your guide to mentoring in Pittsburgh

Amachi Pittsburgh
Emily Stimmel
January10/ 2017

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Aug. 16. We are posting it again in celebration of Mentoring Month.

Many kids and teenagers dabble in jewelry making. But Startable Pittsburgh‘s Jackie Shimshoni knows the pastime can be more than a creative outlet.

Alongside a cadre of volunteers, Shimshoni helps high schoolers transform their hobbies into full-fledged businesses. One program alumna— a successful jewelry designer— recently spent some time with a budding jeweler. The student came back to the entrepreneurship camp the following day with a stunning collection of handmade jewelry, as well as newfound confidence and excitement about her business venture.

These are just a few benefits of mentorship.

According to “The Mentoring Effect,” a 2014 report by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, kids with mentors are more likely to attend school regularly, participate in extracurricular activities, volunteer in their communities and graduate from college. They’re also less likely to try drugs or become involved with the juvenile justice system.

Mentors gain something, too: They report increased self-esteem, improved leadership skills and a sense of fulfillment.

Whether they’re encouraging entrepreneurs, keeping at-risk youth out of jail or supporting new moms, mentors can make a lasting impact on Pittsburgh children, teens and families. Read on to find your perfect match.

Startable Pittsburgh
Startable Pittsburgh

Startable Pittsburgh

Time commitment: Varies by program (anywhere from one hour for class instructors to 40 hours a week for eight weeks for cohort leads.) Alumni in residence participate anywhere from once a week to daily and maker mentors commit five to seven hours a day, three days a week.

Founded in 2014 as 412Build, Startable Pittsburgh is an initiative of Innovation Works. The free, eight-week summer program imparts entrepreneurship and maker skills to teens between the ages of 16 and 18. In partnership with local retailers, students design, prototype, build, market and sell their own products. Students earn a stipend and all profits from the sale of their products are theirs to keep.

“By offering maker and entrepreneurial programming to young people for free, our hope is to diversify and widen the pipeline of individuals who are able to take advantage of what the city has to offer,” says Shimshoni, the program’s coordinator.

Students work with three types of volunteers: alumni in residence, who have gone through the program themselves; cohort leads, who engage youth in daily instruction; and maker mentors, who specialize in different maker techniques and technologies and help students bring their products to life. Teens can also learn directly from entrepreneurs who share tips through one-hour workshops.

“The mentors are often surprised at how amazing our kids are. We’ve had multiple mentors who have reached out after working with our students to offer jobs, internships and other opportunities – and these types of long-term connections are exactly what we want them to come away with,” says Shimshoni.

Kate Brennan of NurturePA (Photo by Brian Cohen)
Kate Brennan of NurturePA (Photo by Brian Cohen)

NurturePA, Inc.

Time commitment: As little as one hour a week, from your own home

Also founded in 2014, NurturePA, Inc. promotes strong social and emotional development among children from birth to age 3 through its innovative, text-based nurture® program.

Each parent is matched with a mentor who shares support, encouragement and parenting resources. Mentors also recommend weekly activities that foster attachment, bonding and early literacy skills – all via text message.

Parents describe their relationships with their mentors as overwhelmingly positive.

One mom, Sally, says, “I know that I’m never alone in my struggle as a new mom and I’m so thankful for that.”

Volunteer Moira adds, “As a mom, I know how big some issues can seem, even when they aren’t.  Taking the weight off of someone’s shoulders can really make a difference for them, and it makes me feel great as well knowing that I have helped.”

After completing an online application, potential mentors meet one-on-one with NurturePA staff and attend a three-hour orientation in conjunction with The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern PA (TMP).

“We believe that when a mother is supported, she’s better able to nurture her baby,” says program manager Kate Brennan.

Amachi Pittsburgh
Amachi Pittsburgh

Amachi Pittsburgh

Time commitment: A minimum of four hours per month for at least one year

Since 2003, Amachi Pittsburgh has helped children between the ages of 4 and 18 overcome the challenges of life with an incarcerated parent or loved one. Based on a national model that originated in Philadelphia, Amachi’s evidence-based programming helps youth improve their academic performance, behavior and relationships with their peers and adults. Mentors and mentees engage in activities based on common interests, like touring museums, playing sports, cooking and learning new languages.

Volunteers are required to mentor a child for at least one year, but more than 75 percent of mentoring relationships last longer. Amachi has played an impressive role in breaking the cycle of incarceration, demonstrating a 92 percent success rate of keeping program participants out of the criminal justice system as juveniles and adults.

Mentors attend a mandatory two-hour training session and are encouraged to participate in workshops throughout their time with the organization.

Amachi volunteer Devon T. appreciates the experience for the opportunity to gain a new perspective: “Mentoring inspires me to understand the type of obstacles my mentee has overcome and the vision she has for her life.”

Big Brothers, Big Sisters
Big Brothers, Big Sisters

Big Brothers, Big Sisters

Time commitment: Varies based on program (anywhere from six to 10 hours a month for community-based mentors to two hours per week for mentor2.0 volunteers)

Founded in 1965 by Kenny Ross and other local business leaders, Big Brothers, Big Sisters (BBBS) may be the best-known mentoring organization on this list.

BBBS typically enrolls children between the ages of 6 and 13, but children often remain in the program until they’re 18 or graduate from high school. Young people form friendships with their mentors that often outlast their time in the program.

The agency offers three core programs: Community-based mentors meet for activities with a “Little” for a minimum of three to five hours, twice a month. Site-based mentors work with elementary and middle school students for 45 minutes a week. And participants in the mentor2.0 program meet for two hours at one evening group event each month at Brashear High School or Propel’s Homestead location. They stay in touch with their Littles through weekly emails throughout all four years of high school.

The staff conducts volunteer orientation and training and carefully matches children with volunteers. Training sessions are typically about two hours long.

“For the children involved, it isn’t simply about the activities they got to do with their ‘Big.’ It is the fact that they had a caring adult in their lives that makes the difference,” says Nikki O’Gorman, marketing & public relations associate.

“Mentors have noted the mentees helped them become better versions of themselves,” she adds. “The Bigs become more aware of what’s happening in their community and have been reminded of the wonderful friendships that can grow between two people who are seemingly very different.”

Strong Women, Strong Girls
Strong Women, Strong Girls

Strong Women, Strong Girls

Time commitment: A minimum of four hours per week for two full semesters

Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) was founded in 2006 at Carnegie Mellon University. Over the past decade, SWSG’s Pittsburgh location has grown to include chapters at six universities and over 35 mentoring sites in more than 24 neighborhoods.

SWSG offers weekly after-school programming to girls between the ages of 8 and 11. Undergraduate college mentors are also mentees who receive guidance from a diverse group of professional women. The goal of SWSG is to instill leadership skills in girls and bolster their self-esteem – and it’s working.

Over the past several years, 85 percent of parents have reported a notable increase in their daughters’ self-esteem, and 93 percent of parents noticed an increase in their girls’ college and career aspirations. This is important because, by the time American girls reach fourth grade, doubt and insecurity begin to undermine their confidence. SWSG’s community of supportive women helps girls at a time when they are most vulnerable.

All SWSG mentors are required to attend two full-day training sessions and are encouraged to participate in training year-round with organizations including TMP (featured below).

“Our model focuses on skill building, relationship building and role models to make sure our girls know that each and every one of them is smart, powerful, worthy and strong,” says Laura Pollanen, SWSG’s interim senior program manager. “One of the most frequent pieces of feedback is that the mentor wishes she had had a program like SWSG when she was a girl.”

The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern PA
The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern PA

The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern PA (TMP)

Time commitment: Varies by organization and interest

The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern PA (TMP) was founded in 1995 to promote quality mentoring in southwestern Pennsylvania. In just over 20 years, TMP has increased its reach from mentoring 3,800 kids each year to serving more than 27,000 children. The organization has provided resources to 561 programs and trained over 15,000 volunteers to be mentors.

Through partnerships with over 150 programs in the region—including BBBS, SWSG and NurturePA, Inc.—TMP connects individuals and organizations to volunteer opportunities that match their skills, interests and availability.

It serves as a centralized hub for mentoring resources in Pittsburgh, offering training courses like Mentoring 101 and Understanding Challenging Behaviors. The agency also provides its own mentoring services, including Everyday Mentoring, an informal program that maximizes children’s existing relationships with the adults in their lives.

“Simply put, we’re dedicated to making sure that any child who wants or needs a mentor has access to a caring adult who can encourage and support them,” says Kristan Allen, TMP’s director of marketing and communications.

This is just a sampling of mentoring opportunities available in Pittsburgh. Search the TMP database for more ideas and be sure to share your favorites in the comments.

Emily Stimmel

Emily Stimmel fell in love with the written word as a teenager, when she published zines and wrote for her school paper. A former contributor to Pittsburgh City Paper and a nonprofit communicator, Emily works in public relations at Carnegie Mellon University. She enjoys cooking, reading and exploring Pittsburgh with her husband and toddler son.