GENESEO — Movie theaters, restaurants and shopping malls are familiar venues for many young people — but not all.
For youths with difficult home lives, parental availability for such fun outings is often absent, according to Donna Mankoff. She serves as coordinator of HOPE (Helping One Person Excel), a mentoring program through which adult volunteers help fill those voids through one-on-one companionship with kids in need.
“I want them to have experiences they’re always going to remember,” said Mankoff, who has a 10-year background as a HOPE mentor.
Mentors provide youths with experiences they might not have otherwise
An initiative of Catholic Charities of Steuben/Livingston, HOPE serves youths across Livingston County. The program, which is noting its 25th anniversary in 2022, is currently seeking to add more volunteers.
Boys and girls referred to HOPE are between the ages of 6 and 16. Each child is paired with a caring adult who makes a commitment of at least four hours per month for a minimum of one year. Prospective mentors must undergo screening and background checks, and HOPE provides training and ongoing support.
Mankoff said no special qualifications are necessary beyond the desire to offer commitment, patience and flexibility so young people can gain more happiness, self-esteem and confidence in their daily lives. She added that an attitude of acceptance, by not passing judgment on the children or their families, is vital as well.
Mankoff served as a HOPE mentor for an 8-year-old girl with a single mother, and she remained paired with the girl until she aged out of the program at age 18.
“We did a lot of movies, a lot of going out to lunch,” she recalled, noting that the girl was familiar with fast-food places but had never been to a sit-down restaurant.
Bill and Nancy Lissow, who attend Holy Angels Church in Nunda, also are longtime HOPE volunteers. Bill noted that he mentored two boys who were brothers and “needed a father figure, someone to take them to ballgames.” Meanwhile, Nancy worked with two girls at separate times, saying that in addition to going out to movies and meals, she offered such in-home activities as playing board games and baking cookies.
“One of my biggest goals was to give them experiences they couldn’t get in their own lives,” Nancy Lissow said during a July 28 reception honoring Catholic Charities of Steuben/Livingston volunteers that she and her husband attended at Long Point Park.
More volunteers are needed to mentor increasing numbers of young people
However, Mankoff said, the number of young people currently seeking those experiences far outweighs the level of available volunteers. Thus, HOPE has a sizable waiting list.
“Because of COVID, it’s been very hard to get people to come out and make the commitment,” she explained.
The pandemic has affected all Catholic Charities of Steuben/Livingston volunteer initiatives, said Steve Olix, the agency’s business relations specialist.
“At least 50 percent of our volunteer workforce did not return from the COVID lockdowns,” he said, emphasizing that “there is a need for volunteers across the entire agency.” Olix said the need is especially acute within HOPE as well as Faith in Action, which provides transportation and other aid to elderly and disabled Livingston County residents. Help with maintaining and cleaning emergency-housing units in Mount Morris and Dansville also is greatly welcomed at this time, Olix added.
Those who are willing to sacrifice their time and effort can end up being richly rewarded, Mankoff said. Bill Lissow, for instance, said he regards the two boys he mentored — now adults — like his own children. He also has become close with one of the boy’s five children.
“I go to their ballgames, I go to their birthday parties. It’s like they’re my grandchildren. They call me Mr. Bill,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mankoff added that she stays in touch with the young lady she mentored who is all grown up now as well.
“She’ll always be my girl, though,” Mankoff remarked.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Those interested in volunteering for the HOPE youth mentoring program may contact Donna Mankoff at 585-245-3947 or email@example.com. Details and registration forms for all Catholic Charities of Steuben/Livingston volunteer opportunities can be found at https://ccsteubenlivingston.org/volunteer. Or, call Catholic Charities’ Steuben County office at 607-776-8085 or its Livingston County office at 585-658-4466.