When women enter the social services system — whether due to poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, or crime — they are taught skills that will help them support themselves in the outside world. “When they get to the end of their training or their enforced participation,” said Judith Bromley, coordinator of Project HOPE, “the program gives them the okay to fly from the edge of the nest; but they can’t necessarily fly.”
Project HOPE, designed and administered by Jewish Family Services for HOPE’s Fund in 2008, was created to bridge the gap between service programs and independence by providing women with mentors in the community. Mentors have helped program participants, called “associates,” to apply for jobs, obtain child care, get a driver’s license, get a GED, enroll in community college, and meet other needs that their life situations make it difficult to negotiate.
Bromley, a psychiatric nurse with a background in staff development, matches up about 20 mentors and associates a year, based on the background of each volunteer and the needs of each associate. The pairs commit to a year of partnership, checking in with each other once a week to discuss the needs of the associate and strategies for moving forward.
“The mentors are learning — how do you help someone find their way?” said Bromley. “They try to provide advice requested as opposed to telling somebody what to do. It’s about listening. Associates want to know, ‘If I make a mistake, will you still be there for me?’ There’s no ‘I told you so’ when there’s a mistake.”
Merle Cosgrove, a Woodstock resident, has been a mentor to Abigail Ifill of Kingston. “Some women need a lot of encouragement,” reported Cosgrove, “but Abby checks out everything on her own. My job has been to help her with child care, to get to the GED classes, and to find resources for driving lessons and other needs.”
Ifill, who trained as a Certified Nursing Assistant with the help of Project HOPE, said Cosgrove has been “like a mother figure, and a grandmother to my kids. While I was doing my GED, she was an awesome help to me and my kids.”
Bromley emphasizes that Project HOPE is not a therapeutic program. Mentors serve as role models, sounding boards, and sources of practical assistance. For associates, participation requires a level of maturity that will enable each associate to maintain a healthy relationship with a mentor.