“I asked one young girl for her opinion on what a mentor was,” explained Girls Inc. Executive Director Roberta Wilhelm, “She said, ‘A mentor is someone who isn’t paid to be with me.’”

Across the state 80,000 youth and 30,000 in Omaha live below the poverty line. For these young people in Omaha there are currently only 3,000 mentors. A new $20,000 campaign aims to recruit 500 new mentors by the end of October.

“Our participating agencies know more can be achieved by working together,” said Deborah Neary, Executive Director of the Midlands Mentoring Partnership (MMP). “There is no one organization that can address the enormous mentoring need in Omaha.”

Midlands Mentoring Partnership is a public/private organization that works to improve the quality of mentoring programs in Omaha. Created in 1999, MMP works with 11 partners, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Hope Center for Kids, and Ollie Webb Inc. The organization operates with two staff members, nine board members, ten Member Agency Leadership members, and four Provider’s Council Leaders.

With an annual budget of around $500,000, MMP is supported with funding from the City of Omaha and Building Bright Futures. “Around $300,000 of that funding goes out in direct support to mentoring programs,” said Whitney Mastin, Manager of Training, Data and Quality Assurance. “The categories we provide support for include expansion grants, data stipends, capacity building grants, background check funding, and professional development scholarships.” 

The ideas of the board members led to an idea for this larger push for mentoring. “We invest in other mentoring organizations,” said Neary. “And we thought this collaboration was a great idea for a campaign.”

The objective of this project is to create an engaging way to recruit new mentors in Omaha, particularly men, minorities and bilingual speakers. Campaign materials will answer questions, address misconceptions, and give recruits an opportunity to ask questions to seasoned mentors. “This city-wide campaign is expected to be game-changing for our community and a model for others to follow,” said Neary.

There are five types of mentoring programs available in Omaha through the Mentor Omaha Now campaign; One-on-one mentoring, Big Couple mentoring, Group Mentoring, where one adult supports four mentees, Team Mentoring, where several adults work with a team of young people, and Peer Mentoring, where one youth provides support to another.

The campaign website, www.MentorOmahaNow.org, works as a platform for educating new and potential mentors. Mentoring activities vary from mentors taking youth on bike rides to playing sports. “Our youth can grow into responsible and contributing members of society with the right supports in place,” said Neary. “For only four hours a month, each of us can make a significant difference.”

Ben Gray, City Council representative for District Two in Omaha, is one example of many on the benefits of mentoring. “I know mentoring works,” he said. “I work with high-risk youth, and mentored one particular girl who was a gang member. I drove her to school every day for two years to make sure she got there and was on the right track. Now, she is the Program Manager for Impact One, a community development organization.”

Girls, Inc. has been providing support to women and girls in Omaha since 1975, helping high-risk girls to succeed, and mentoring is an important part of the process. “We have provided mentoring services for girls in Omaha for many years, but there has been an improvement since partnering with the Midlands Mentoring Partnership,” Wilhelm said,

“A year ago we started with 20 mentor matches, and now we have 120. The more that girls see and work with mentors, the more they really want them. Mentors make an incredible difference in their lives. It’s important to provide support to keep mentoring organizations moving in a good direction.”

For more information about the mentoring campaign, visit www.MentorOmahaNow.org.

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