New digs enable Mentor RI to meet mission

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The benevolent mission of Mentor Rhode Island hasn’t changed, they just might be a little easier to find and access now that they’ve moved from the middle of Apponaug to Warwick Avenue.

The change in residence stems from the group signing a lease agreement with Coastway Community Bank, located at 2089 Warwick Ave., which gave Mentor Rhode Island access to the vacant space attached to the bank for just $1 a year for three years, with an additional three-year option. They signed on Nov. 15, 2017 and are just about finished moving in.

An official ribbon cutting will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 17 at 2 p.m. The address is 2065 Warwick Ave.

“It’s a huge difference, even if I did triple my commute,” said president and CEO Jo-Ann Schofield, feigning disappointment. “From one mile to three.”

Schofield said the new location and generous lease agreement, to which she thanked president and CEO Bill White and Jana M. Planka, executive vice president, takes a lot of pressure off the organization’s day-to-day operations – they owned two buildings in Apponaug, which resulted in lots of building management issues such as frozen water pipes, detracting from their mission as a nonprofit.

“It allows me to make payroll more easily. Cash flow is always an issue with nonprofits,” she said. “For us it’s not having that constant worry of having tenants that may or may not be paying, or having the issues with the building.”

The group didn’t have to worry about furnishing their new office space either, as they received a donation of furniture from one of the branches of Washington Trust, where their board chairwoman Deb Gormley is the executive vice president of retail banking.

“It looks cohesive instead of piecemealed together,” Schofield said. “Our board was behind the move and authorized us to get a fresh coat of paint as well, so it’s really like a fresh start for us.”

A fresh start is exactly what advocates and executive staff of Mentor Rhode Island hope to be able to provide for kids who need a little extra support in their lives – kids who perhaps don’t have an adult figure to look up to. Schofield said that one study reported that as many as one in three kids is unable to identify someone in their lives as a mentor figure.

Schofield said that it is even worse for people of lower socioeconomic status, as their families may not be able to afford to place their kids in sports or after school clubs and activities, where many kids develop relationships with other kids or adult mentor figures.

To combat this, Mentor Rhode Island operates centers in Cranston, Warwick, Newport, Woonsocket, Middletown and, most recently, in Pawtucket this spring and soon to be at Del Sesto Middle School in Providence within a month or two.

These center directly connect about 350 kids with mentors, but Mentor Rhode Island also connects its own resources with other agencies and organizations statewide, totaling about 5,000 kids who benefit from their resources – be it through technical support or providing cutting edge training to staff and volunteers who then work with the children.

“It’s important for us to think of how we can help support [other groups] in getting people to be more intentional about building a meaningful relationship with a kid,” Schofield said. “To be deliberate about building what’s called a developmental relationship – a relationship that will make a difference for a kid in a meaningful way emotionally as well as helping them academically.”

That’s the secret behind Mentor Rhode Island’s successful mentoring programs. You align kind adults who simply want to be a part of something positive, align them with kids who could really use more support, and the benefits become apparent without any unnecessary steps.

Schofield said it could be “for any reason” that a kid could use a mentor – be it they don’t get along with many other kids in class, they have an issue at home or they’re simply going through a tough time. Once a mentor is matched with a kid, they meet for one hour, once a week during school time at their school doing whatever activity is enjoyable.

“If you think shooting hoops is fun, that’s great. If you think reading books is fun, that’s fine,” Schofield said. “It’s really about building the relationship, and then we find that the academic outcomes just naturally happen because the child is more excited about being in school.”

“It’s a transformational relationship for a young person and, honestly, for the mentor,” she continued.

Although Mentor Rhode Island is growing in the right direction – and now has a more accessible base for their operations where they don’t have to worry about being on the financial hook for pipes bursting or other maintenance issues – they still recognize a huge gap between the number of available volunteer mentors and the number of kids who could benefit from one.

“The need is huge,” she said. “We have 900 kids right now that are waiting for mentors. My goal would be to get more of those kids matched. We need more volunteers and people who are passionate about trying to make a difference.”

If you think you may enjoy being a mentor, or know someone else who would, call 732-7700, or contact Christopher Margadonna at cmargadonna@mentorri.org. Schofield said that the experience is rewarding unlike anything else.

“We just had someone who was a mentee apply to be a mentor the other day who said that they wouldn’t be the person they are today without their mentor,” she said. “Literally, goose bumps.”

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