Story from the New Haven Independent:
NEW HAVEN — The Children’s Community Program of Connecticut on Monday celebrated and highlighted local mentors during Mentor Appreciation Month with an awards celebration at Shell & Bones.
Program Director Patricia Nicolari said the One on One Mentoring Program finds volunteer mentors to work with children in foster care at the Department of Children and Families or Court Supports Services Division. The program provides the children with a positive role model, while giving youth an opportunity to have experiences they may not otherwise have and provide academic support.
The One on One program currently has 65 mentors, Nicolari said. The program operates throughout New Haven County. The volunteers mingled Monday evening at Shell & Bones, whose executive chef, Arturo Franco-Camacho, is a volunteer in the program.
Police officers, lawyers and other professionals are among those who regularly volunteer. Nicolari said the program needs more male volunteers, adding women tend to volunteer more often than men. She currently has 45 additional volunteer spots available.
“My phrase is, ‘Down time is the devil’s time,’” Nicolari said. “So, the more we keep kids actively involved in meaningful activities, the less room there is for bad things to come out of it.”
Among those honored Monday were New Haven police school resource officer James Baker, who works at James Hillhouse High School. Baker is a rookie in the program, having started volunteering last September. He primarily volunteers helping kids ages 5 to 12 involved in basketball and football.
Baker is one of at least five New Haven police officers who volunteer with Children’s Community. Baker also helps with the department’s PAL program, including giving local kids rides to and from practice.
“I look at it as we do these things and give them the time … (so) we’re keeping them out of trouble,” Baker said.
By contrast, Lindsey Pina is a seasoned veteran at Children’s Community. A behavioral health specialist at Integrated Wellness Group, she’s been volunteering since 2012. She has volunteered mentoring two girls, including one who recently graduated from a local high school.
Pina said her upbringing motivated her to volunteer at programs like Children’s Community. Her parents weren’t always around, but she received motivation from a personal mentor that led to her attending college.
“I wanted to be a mentor, especially for females,” Pino said. “It’s a good thing. They need it, especially in New Haven.”
Reach Esteban L. Hernandez at 203-680-9901.