The Deaconess Community awarded a grant to ASCENTRIA CARE ALLIANCE in 2015 for the purpose of developing a mentoring program for Unaccompanied Refugee Minors in the Massachusetts areaThis blog was written by Sister Carol Weaver.

Through the sponsorship of the Deaconess Community of the ELCA, Webster Five Savings Bank, the Mass Mentoring Partnership, and the Highland Street AmeriCorps Ambassador Program, Ascentria has created a mentoring program for the unaccompanied refugee minors in the Worcester, Massachusetts area. Ascentria’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) program is one of the few foster care programs in New England that assists refugee and migrating children exclusively.

The mentoring program connects refugee youth with caring, responsible and reliable adults who understand the importance of helping young people acquire necessary life skills such as informed decision making, conflict resolution, and long-term planning while learning to trust and develop positive social skills. This mentoring program utilizes a group “workshop” type setting to prepare the youth for more intensive one-on-one mentoring relationships. Mentors provide a consistent, stable adult presence in a young person’s life. Research shows that youth who have mentors are 52% less likely to skip school, making them more likely to graduate. Youth with mentors are also more likely to reduce high-risk behaviors, like violent tendencies and substance abuse.

This program has the potential to increase the self-esteem of our children and also provide support and leadership training skills necessary to encourage and sustain healthy lifestyles. When this happens, old survival skills can be converted into healthy coping skills, affirming the individual gifts in each child. According to URM Program Manager Ailish Donovan,

A key indicator of success for youth in foster care is having a quality connection to an adult. The mentoring program offers an opportunity for folks who may want to connect with these youth in a meaningful way. The group mentoring model allows for this relationship building, but also allows for the power of peer learning.

While the program has been in a development phase since September 2015, the first cycle of Mentoring Workshops launched this spring and ran until July 17, 2016 at Ascentria’s Client Center, 11 Shattuck Street in Worcester, Massachusetts.