Twenty years ago, the Waupaca County Department of Health and Human Services (WCDHHS) ran a mentoring program for at-risk youth.
That program was discontinued when the social worker running it accepted another position within the agency.
Now Amanda Driebel-Kriesel, along with the help of her co-workers, Natalie Doemel and Lauren Flunker, hopes to rebuild it.
“Developing a new WCDHHS-run mentoring program has been a goal for several years,” Driebel-Kriesel said. “Several social workers feel strongly about this.”
Driebel-Kriesel, who is a juvenile justice social worker for Waupaca County, participated in Leadership Waupaca County in 2013. In August, she worked on a group project directly related to youth mentoring.
“It was through this class, and my employment as a social worker, that I was able to link together the need we have in our county to provide positive mentors to youth who may not have positive supports in their lives,” she said. “I chose this project to work on as it directly relates to the work I do and is a passion of mine to see all youth should be provided with the same opportunities.”
The Mentoring Initiative Group includes Driebel-Kriesel, along with Erin Eller, Brian Kaminske, Ashley Borman and Gene Panske.
“We are in the discussion and research stage at both the county level and as the Mentoring Initiative Group thus far,” Driebel-Kriesel said.
In November, surrounding counties and agencies that operate similar programs were invited to take part in a large group discussion.
“The goal of this meeting was to obtain information crucial to having a successful long-term mentoring program within the County,” Driebel-Kriesel said.
“We have talked to representatives at all the county school districts, several churches and several community members,” she said. “All of them described different issues and ideas, in which they felt mentoring could directly benefit the youth of Waupaca County and communities in general.”
The hope is that through the use of a mentoring program, there would be fewer juvenile delinquency referrals and a lower recidivism rate among those youths who have been in trouble.
“The intention is to serve school-aged kids through young adulthood, so age 5 or 6 to at least age 18,” Driebel-Kriesel said. “We are discussing possibly serving them until the age 21.”
“We are looking at the program from two different aspects,” she said. “A program created and ran by WCDHHS, where youth on court orders or working with a social worker within our department would be served first, along with those identified as high risk, in an effort to be preventative and proactive.”
She said youths who have problems with academics or school attendance would also be considered at risk.
“We would also look to serve youth with low self-esteem, have siblings with legal issues, have parents with legal issues, youth of immigrant families or are new to the area, ” Driebel-Kriesel said.
Criteria to help determine who is at risk will come from the referring parties, such as parents, teachers or police officers.
“We would love to see happier, healthy, active kids in Waupaca County,” Driebel-Kriesel said. “The long-term goal would be to reduce delinquent acts, lower recidivism rates and see youth do better overall.”
Volunteers who are interested in becoming a mentor would be asked for a minimum of a one year of service commitment.
“I hear so often, ‘If I just had time,’” she said. “What I say to that is you do. Take them out for lunch once a week on your lunch break or to the ballpark when your kids are playing soccer. Meet them for a walk and talk while you’re walking. Go fishing, hunting, to a movie or meet at school during their study hall; there are so many more quick things that could take an hour or less of your time that could mean the world to a kid.”
Driebel-Kriesel reflects for a moment on her own childhood.
“We have a family friend, Elisabeth (Liz) Sharkey, who is a like a grandmother to me and my sisters. She spent a lot of time with us kids. Looking back now she was a mentor,” said Driebel-Kriesel.
“We would go visit her on weekends, when my parents would go grocery shopping, and once in a while we would stay overnight. She would play board games and card games with us. We’d watch movies and play music on her keyboard. We would order in food and visit and laugh the whole time. She always expected us to be good kids, behave and be respectful,” she said. “I have great parents and sisters but if I didn’t, I would imagine Liz being that mentor that I would have needed.”
The Mentoring Initiative Group will continue to explore such things as training requirements, duties and responsibilities and screening tools.
They will also research how to best match children with mentors.