What's New with MHA's Bridges to Pals Program?
Bridges to Pals offers support to children and adolescents in foster care, as well as other "at-risk" children, through a one-on-one relationship with a caring, responsible mentor. The program helps youth develop a strong sense of self-worth and strengthens their ability to interact with others in positive ways, including building trusting relationships.
What difference does Bridges to Pals make for its Little Pals?
Bridges to Pals made a big difference in the lives of 60 Little Pals just last year alone, here are some examples of the program outcomes from Fiscal Year 2011 (July 1, 2010 - June 30, 2011).
- 91% of clients experienced an increase in socialization skills as indicated by a positive change in behavior and in interaction with peers and adults.
- 87% of clients showed improvement overall as a result of services rendered.
- 83% of clients had a decrease in identified problem behaviors as indicated by a decrease in aggressive or dependent behaviors.
Outcomes are important, but what do the Little Pals think?
Diamond, age 9: "[My big pal] made a difference in my life by showing
me how it fills [sic.] to be loved and cared for," (matched for 8 months).
David, age 13: "[My big pal] has made a very big difference in my life.
He takes me out every weekend and we have lots fo [sic.] fun. We go
golfing and lots fo [sic.] places I've never been. I really appreciate his
kindness to me," (matched for 1 year and 8 months).
Keona, age 14: "Now I have somebody to talk to and I don't have to
keep my frustrations in, so that has helped a lot," (matched 2 years
and 6 months).
Elaine, age 18: "It's nice 2 have someone 2 hang out with & talk
to," (matched 1 year and 3 months).
Bridges to Pals seems to help a lot of kids? How does such a small program make such a big difference?
Bridges to Pals is one of MHA's smallest programs, but it really does make a huge difference in the lives of youth throughout the community. With a very small staff - one part-time Program Director - the program truly depends on the dedication of its volunteers/Big Pals. The volunteers go through a background check, a good bit of training and ongoing support. Staff also arranges for holiday gifts and guidance for families who need resources and referrals. Each of the program's 60 or so volunteers is making a meaningful difference in the life of each of these Little Pals.
A Closer Look: Thoughts From a Bridges to Pals Volunteer
It was pretty cold on that December day in 1995 when I drove up to the apartment complex. I had been through the Pals training, and the program director met me in the parking lot. I was a little nervous, but I was ready -- ready to give back something to the world that had given me so much. Even more than that, I was going to help "fix" whatever was wrong in this little boy's life. Yes, just leave it to me, I thought... I know what I’m doing... piece of cake.
We met J's mother. She seemed nice, and clearly she thought the program was important for her son. With no male role model in his life, I think she understood the risks she was facing. In a while, a somewhat frightened 10-year-old boy emerged from the bedroom. He was looking down, not really making eye contact. It seemed great as an abstract concept, this "mentoring" thing, but that all changed the minute he entered the room. I realized there was nothing "wrong" with this boy, nothing that needed to be "fixed". He needed something simple. I realized two things very quickly - I had no idea how to provide what he needed, and that what he needed was going to take a very, very long time.
Looking back, the most unexpected part of the experience is how much fun I had and how much I learned. After all, I was going to give back something, to fix whatever wrong was in this boy's life, remember? That spring J was playing soccer, and I went to a lot of games. I'm not sure there is anything better to do on a Saturday afternoon than watch kids play soccer when there is someone you care about on the field. There were the Pals functions where I watched J Help younger boys bowl or play video games, and tell me that he hoped the ones that didn't have a match yet would have one soon. We worked on computers together, shot each other at laser tag parties and blew each other up over the Internet. That first day was the last time I ever thought about fixing anything. We just hung out. And had fun. That's the beauty of mentoring - when it works, you don't have to pay attention.
Two stories are most vivid in my mind of my time with J. The first was about two years into the program. We were having lunch and he asked me why I joined the program. He knew I was talking about having children of my own (I now have two), and he wanted to know if the reason I joined was to see what it was like to have a child. Taken aback, I said I was interested in that, yes, but I initially wanted to help someone. He simply said “Thanks.”
The other was more recent, about a year or so ago. I was watching this young man devour a cheeseburger with reckless abandon, and I said to him “I hope you don’t mind my asking, but I’m curious about something. By any accounts, you have lived a life with many disadvantages. Your father is not involved in your life. You don’t have a lot of money. Your mother works, often late into the evening, so you’re often home alone. Yet, you don’t have a drinking problem, you don’t have a drug problem, you’ve done reasonably well in school, and you haven’t gotten anyone pregnant. Why?” Without hesitation, he looked up at me and said one word, “Examples. My sister was a bad example (she got pregnant at 15), and I wouldn’t wish her life on anyone. You and my mother are good examples.”
Last weekend I stopped by to pick up J for lunch. We see much less of each other than we used to, especially since I now have two children of my own, but we quickly fall into our usual rhythm. The boy who looked up at me almost a decade ago from a foot below is now the man who looks down at me because he’s several inches taller than I. We talked about video games, the news, a friend that he’s having a bad time with. We just hung out… piece of cake…
Barnes & Noble Book Drive for Children Served by MHA!Montrose Crossing Store ONLY - Now through January 1st
Books make a great holiday gift, particularly for kids who don't have many (or any). Several of MHA's programs serve children and teens who would really love to get a new book at the holidays and with your help these kids can.
Barnes and Noble at Montrose Crossing has generously offered to run a holiday book drive for the children served by MHA's programs. Hundreds of books have already been purchased and donated by generous Barnes & Noble at Montrose Crossing shoppers but it would be wonderful to get hundreds more.
How to give the gift of a book:
1. Go to Barnes & Noble at Montrose Crossing
2. Look for this display (pictured right)
3. Select a book from the display
4. Purchase the book at any register
5. Tell the sales clerk it is for MHA
6. Feel GREAT because the book will go to
a child who will really appreciate it!
Operation Santa Claus:
Collecting Gifts for Adult Patients Living with Mental Illness
Operation Santa Claus, a longstanding initiative of Mental Health Association of Montgomery County, works to collect, prepare and distribute gifts to hundreds of adult patients with mental illness at Springfield State Hospital and Montgomery General Hospital who are unable to go home for the holidays and would not otherwise receive gifts.
Donations of new personal care items, including toothpaste and toothbrushes, hats, socks, scarves and the like are welcome. This year there has been a special request for games (board games, playing cards, bingo sets, puzzle books), new books and magazines. Financial contributions are also accepted.
Donations need to be received by December 13th so that volunteers can assemble the packages. Donations may be brought to MHA’s main office at 1000 Twinbrook Parkway. Please place them in plastic or paper bags marked “Operation Santa Claus”.
Other Ways to Support MHA at the Holidays
If you are planning to make a charitable contribution before the year is out, please consider making that gift to MHA.
Each year MHA sends out a mailing asking you to consider making a tax-deductible contribution to MHA. The mailing is due to go out over the next couple of weeks and you'll see that Joy Paul, MHA's Board President, wrote a lovely note reminding you that MHA is here for you and for the entire community - particularly during these challenging times. You'll see that she speaks about the amazing work of MHA's programs and what they do to serve clients whose lives are made better because of the services they receive. And, you'll see that she talks about how much MHA needs you as a partner in providing these services. If you are able, please consider making a donation to MHA - it means SO much! To make a secure online contribution right now, click here.
If you prefer to make your charitable donations through United Way or the Combined Federal Campaign, please remember MHA is an eligible organization.
MHA participates in both the United Way Campaign (#8151) and the Combined Federal Campaign (#88462). Employees at workplaces that participate in either of these campaigns can make their contributions to MHA through one-time gifts or payroll deductions. Just remember, MHA of Montgomery County is:
United Way: #8151
CFC (for federal employees): #88462
Thank you for your partnership in helping people right here in this community!
Thank you so very much for your interest in MHA, its programs and services. We hope that you have enjoyed this e-newsletter and that you will share it with others.
Please remember that MHA depends on contributions from supporters like you to continue offering its valuable programs and services to members of this community. Please make MHA one of the organizations you select for your charitable contributions.
Click on "Donate Now" to put those dollars to work right now or
mail your contribution to 1000 Twinbrook Parkway - Rockville, MD 20851.