Inclusive Mentoring – A National Perspective

Kaela VronskyOur guest blogger is Kaela Vronsky, Mentoring and National Center Director for Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD). Vronksy will be presenting the workshop “Inclusive Mentoring – A National Perspective” at the 13th annual Minnesota Mentoring Conference on October 15th. You can follow Kaela on Twitter @youthmentors.

As the oldest mentoring program that specifically serves youth with disabilities, we at Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD) have a secret we’d like to make public:  our program doesn’t differ significantly from mentoring programs that don’t explicitly serve this population.   All of the basic principles apply:  customizing matches based on mutual interests; addressing misunderstandings and unmet expectations; seeing each young person as an individual rather than a statistic; and making sure matches have all the knowledge, resources, and support they need to thrive.   And yet, our experience leads us to suspect that youth with disabilities – especially those whose disability impacts their social skills – are being systematically excluded from mainstream mentoring programs around the country.  It is our mission to reverse this trend through widespread training and support.

The key to PYD’s mentoring program is to approach our work with optimism, creativity, flexibility, and the determination to make mentoring work for anyone and everyone that comes through our doors.  Having said this, there are some very practical and easy changes that can enhance any program’s ability to serve youth with disabilities well.   Small changes to materials and procedures at the various phases – recruitment, intake, support, and evaluation – can make a big difference.

Over the past year Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation has funded PYD to work with three Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliates in New England to create a training model to be replicated nationally through Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.   The lessons we have learned are widely relevant to any program, whether it’s priorities are to better serve youth with disabilities already enrolled (identified as such or not), or to send a more welcoming message through inclusive recruitment and intake practices. We are thrilled have the chance to share these lessons with participants of the 13th annual Minnesota Mentoring Conference on October 15th.  Join us by registering for the conference today!

About Mai-Anh Kapanke

Mai-Anh Kapanke is the executive director of the Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota. Kapanke graduated from Michigan State University with a journalism degree. During the 2013-2014 program year, she was selected for a Humphrey Policy Fellowship at the University of Minnesota. In 2011, she completed the Institute for Executive Director Leadership program through the University of St. Thomas. Prior to her work in the mentoring arena, Kapanke was a television news reporter and weather anchor. She has served as a mentor with both Mentor Duluth and Kids 'n Kinship and currently coaches her daughter's soccer team.
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