Homeless Coalition seeking volunteers for mentor program

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DORA — The Walker County Coalition for the Homeless (WCCH) is looking for female mentees and mentors for its new Family Promise mentorship program.

Attendees at Tuesday's East Walker Chamber of Commerce heard from Salvation Army executive director Saderia Morman, who stood in for WCCH mentor coordinator Werdell Kirk to talk about the program, which focuses on helping single women who have children.

"What they're looking at is to address the barriers and then provide solutions to those barriers" for these women, Morman said. 

The program looks to help the mentees learn financial literacy and secure stability and employment by teaching them to be less dependent on month-to-month assistance. "Their main goal is changing life patterns," she added.

Morman described the mentor program as a "support system to help [the women] get from where they are" to a better place in their lives.

Kirk and WCCH director Lona Courington spoke more about the program in a separate interview Wednesday. 

This version of the program is a "rebuilding," according to Courington. They discovered the previous attempt last spring was "probably targeting the wrong type of client with the program." She said past clients were less receptive to making long-term changes in their lives.

"Last year we had about 12 go through the program and, of those, I know that five are still on their feet," Courington said, with stable housing and being either employed or actively seeking employment.

Kirk explained that people will go through Courington's WCCH program and then she recommends some of those single parents to continue through the mentor plan. 

He also said that one thing the mentor program aims to do is get people out of "survival" mode, help them achieve their objectives and goals and help them rediscover passions they previously had in their lives. 

This is all done in an effort to encourage the women to move forward with their lives. "Don't get bogged down in the past, because we're moving on," Courington said. 

The mentor program works to fix "not just what's wrong right now, but to raise these moms and their children out of poverty and make a generational change," she explained.

In the future, the WCCH hopes to eventually have successful mentees return and act as mentors for other women who enter the program.

There's no age limit on women who can participate in the mentorship program as mentees, although their children must be 18 years old or younger.

Kirk added that while the program is aimed at single mothers, they do have a provision to accommodate single fathers in need as well. 

Mentors are provided with initial training before beginning to work with their mentees, as well as ongoing training throughout the program. Other materials also help their mentees, based on individual needs. 

Courington said that they want mentors to bring something to the table, whether it's similar experiences or just overcoming other barriers themselves and serving as an example that these things can be done.

"One of the things that is critical, it is important [for mentors] to be empathetic, not sympathetic," Kirk added. "We don't want the mentors to be enablers."

After the initial mentorship period ends, the WCCH continues following up with the mentees for a further 12 months or so to ensure they stay on track.

Family Promise is funded by the Women's Fund of Greater Birmingham and the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, with support from the Walker Area Community Foundation.

There are currently five people participating in the program.

Those wanting to volunteer, donate or find out more information on the Family Promise mentorship program can contact the WCCH at 205-387-7408 or visit www.homelesswalkeral.com.