Sunday, March 05, 2000

Mentors assist adults

Families learn valuable skills

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIDDLETOWN — MALACHI and the Butler County Department of Human Services are working side by side to help at-risk families.

        Side By Side, an adult mentoring program available to all people receiving public assistance from Butler County, aims to allow other adults in the community to teach at-risk families personal and professional skills.

        It's modeled on another program MALACHI — Middletown-Monroe Adolescent Leaders Achieve — sponsors that works with troubled teens in the area and also uses mentoring.

        The Butler County Department of Human Resources is sponsoring the new program for at-risk fam ilies in the county who will reach the limits of their benefits in October.

        The county's mission is to use the assets of communities countywide while supporting the efforts of families to acquire and maintain jobs and stability. A network of professionally trained mentors supporting assistance recipients is another goal.

        “Mentors are recruited from local churches and other organizations throughout the county,” said Mary Gressle, assistant project manager of the Side By Side program. “We're looking for the "been there, done that' in a mentor. That way, the mentors feel rewarded because they are able to share their own life experience. It's a blessing for both.

        “Many people are just entering the work force for the first time. They say "I've always tried to do this on my own. I get frustrated and give up.' The mentor is there as a resource.”

        There are 25 families participating in the program, and the waiting list is growing.

        Transportation is the major problem for these participants, Ms. Gressle said. She also said that the program is working as an advocate for education and job counseling.

        Heidi Schleyer, a mentor in the program, said she got involved because she simply wanted to help.

        “I want to help women be all that they can be,” Ms. Schleyer said. “Mostly, they just need help and encouraging words.”

        Ms. Schleyer has been working with Natasha Peterson since December. Peterson has four children, is on welfare, and wanted to get back into the work force.

        “I'm encouraging her to be all she can be,” Ms. Schleyer said. “I don't feel like I'm doing a whole lot, but it's a tremendous experi ence for me.”

        Among the many visits and calls, the two women have attended church functions together.

        “She's been good help. She tells me to pull my head up straight. We have a lot of things in common,” Ms. Peterson said.

        She ultimately wants to be a nurse or dietitian, and she recently obtained a job as a dietary aide, a first step on the way to her goals.

        “These are baby steps, but good baby steps,” said Ms. Schleyer, a nurse. “It's good to see her believe in herself. A big part of it is just getting up out of the oppression of their neighborhood ....”

        Ms. Peterson describes her relationship with Ms. Schleyer as being like family.

        “I call her my big sister because I was going through problems and she's been there for me,” Ms. Peterson said. The Cincinnati Enquirer/Glenn Hartong Heidi Schleyer, a mentor in the Side By Side program, has helped a mother of four who is on welfare rejoin the work force as a dietary aide.


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