Raising Hope is a mentoring program that trains women to help other women achieve their goals. The Kingston-based initiative was originally designed to address the challenges women face when graduating from social service programs and being thrust back out on their own, often without a reliable support system.
After 12 years of successfully helping women in eastern Ulster County to navigate work, school, child care, and other needs, often despite formidable life challenges, Raising Hope is extending its services to Shandaken. As they set up a structure for training mentors in the community, they are seeking volunteers to participate in a process that will pair each mentor with a local woman who can benefit from her support.
The commitment is for one year, with two hours of mentoring per week in the form of phone calls and face-to-face meetings. As one mentor remarked, “There is something so powerful about witnessing someone else’s success.”
Women from 18 to 72 have been mentees in the program, which requires that they be at least 18 years of age and free of drugs, alcohol, and domestic violence for a minimum of six months. Mentoring coordinator and organization founder Judith Bromley, a Masters-trained psychiatric nurse, explained, “The defining characteristic of participants is their desire to create a better life for themselves and their families. While the younger women may not have had successes in their lives, they know that success is possible, and they seek out our services to find role models for moving themselves forward.” Women aged 25 to 45 have held jobs or gone to school in the past, and the circumstances that interrupted their forward movement have been recognized and addressed. These women are eager to complete the goals they had to put on hold. The most mature participants are women seeking a career change or a first career, or in some cases, they have a bucket list to accomplish.
Bromley screens all participants to make sure they are suitable and able to benefit from the program. She also steps in to address any emotional or therapeutic concerns that might arise. Staff is available for moral support as well as providing ongoing educational and financial assistance to mentoring pairs.
“Mentoring is a very present-moment type of work,” Bromley said. “We’re meeting someone where they are, imbued with a vision for where they want to go, without focusing on past unsuccessful behaviors.” The work occurs within the structure of a professional development model, with mentees asked to define what’s important to them, what their goals are, and how they want to achieve their goals. “We do not ask mentors to address the question ‘Why aren’t you successful?’ Mentors are not expected to be therapists.”
Bromley distinguished between responsibility, which is emphasized by many enrichment programs, and accountability, key to the professional model Raising Hope employs. “Responsibility means that I learn to do what I am told to do. I learn what the rules are, as well as the consequences for not following the rules. Accountability means I am independently able to see what needs to be done, and I can come to my superior to freely discuss the process without fear of recrimination. Accountability confers autonomy and thus independence.”
Mentor training, which is expected to begin this spring at the Pine Hill Community Center, teaches mentors about their role in the relationship they will undertake, including setting boundaries, measuring progress, and using the various tools available. The working styles inventory, for instance, enables the mentor to understand how the mentee works and the best ways to help her move forward, setting positive and realistic goals. Each goal is broken down into a series of steps.
Bromley gave the example of a woman whose vision is to get into college but isn’t sure what to study. “Goal One would be to clarify her areas of interest. The mentor would help her do an interest assessment, which is available for free online. Often the results are surprising and might send someone in a direction she didn’t think of at first.”
A skills assessment would follow. If a woman says she’s only been a mother, the mentor will point out the vast array of skills exercised by the mother of a three-year-old, including interpersonal skills, scheduling, organization. “People are always doing telephone intakes when they have to call a doctor,” said Bromley. “We take daily skills and show people they already know how to do these things.”
Planning the next steps may involve finding transportation or child care or resolving other issues that affect the mentee’s capacity to get to school. She may need help filling out a financial aid form. “SUNY Ulster has great resources,” Bromley said. “Sometimes you just have to take the person to the school and connect them to the resources. We had a woman whose 16-year-old daughter wanted to apply to college. By the end of their first visit to Ulster, both the mom and the daughter had signed up for college. The two of them sat there filling out applications together.”
In Shandaken, Bromley hopes to find at least half a dozen mentors she can match up with mentees, and the staff will provide supervision as they do in Kingston. By next year, she hopes to have local people learning to train new mentors, so the satellite program can be somewhat independent although still supported by Kingston staff. Recognizing that a rural community has different resources and problems from a city like Kingston, Bromley said, “People in the community will want to make it their own, and they should. They’ll look at networks they already have and can plug into for more expertise.”
One mentor commented, “I’ve found that mentoring is really just an ongoing, in-depth conversation between two people, the outcome being that both parties are constantly learning and enriching each other’s lives.”
And from a mentee: “Working with another woman empowered me to make my womanhood work for me to overcome the challenges of my personal adversities and the adversity of being a woman.”
Women aged 30 or older who are interested in volunteering in Shandaken as mentors for Raising Hope should contact Judith Bromley at 845-559-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The program is supported by United Way of Ulster, the Dyson Foundation, individual donations, and the Novo Community Foundation, which this year granted funds to expand to a full-time program with the addition of a new Project Coordinator, Amy Summers.