Maria Coletti, left, and Julia Page, both Americorps volunteers, at the Alfond Youth & Community Center in Waterville on Wednesday. They are working for the youth center to start up a new mentoring program for kids. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — Children in the after-school program at the Alfond Youth & Community Center will get the chance to benefit from a new mentorship program coming this spring, as organizers say it’s more vital than ever during the pandemic to support kids in different ways.

Organized by new youth center staffers and AmeriCorps members Maria Coletti and Julia Page, the mentoring program will match up to 50 children in grades K-7 with a one-on-one mentor for weekly sessions.

“Our goal is really just for (children) to have an adult friend,” Page said. “Someone who is consistent in their lives and helps support them through all of the ups and downs that life brings.”

The youth center has various mentoring programs already in place, but this one is a bit different. Child and Youth Development Director Christine Johnson said this youth program helps get people, besides counselors, involved with individual mentoring of children.

“It’s more important than ever for these kids to have these circles of support around them,” Johnson said, referring to struggles during the coronavirus pandemic. “The more routine and consistency that they are seeing from adults at this time is really important.”

The National Mentoring Resource Center echoes that point, and on its website lists tools, programs and training materials related to supporting youth mentoring amid the pandemic.

“During times of crisis, young people can greatly benefit from social connection and engagement with caring adults and peers,” the resource center states on its website.

The volunteer mentors and their mentees at Waterville’s youth center will meet once a week for an hour starting in May. Kids in the program come from a variety of schools and are already enrolled in the center’s after-school program.

Accounting for pandemic restrictions, the program can include up to 50 children and mentors. Program officials hope that by the next school year there will be many, many more. The program is similar to Big Brothers Big Sisters, but is site-based at the Alfond Youth & Community Center.

Coletti, 21, and Page, 23, moved to the area two months ago as part of the AmeriCorps program. They are working for the youth center to implement the mentoring program.

“I’ve always been really passionate about kids, and my goal is to do something that changes the future for a lot of kids, to help make the world better,” Coletti said. “There are a lot of kids that don’t have opportunities that should have opportunities.”

Page has a background working in child care, specifically with disabled children. Experiences with Special Olympics and at a summer camp for children with Type 1 Diabetes “opened my eyes to the value of community connection,” Page said. “Different populations deserve the same access throughout, so I wanted to join a program that gives people equal opportunity to thrive and reach their potential.”

Program planning and development occurred in December. Recruitment began in early February and the program officially kicks off in May.

Those who are interested in volunteering as mentors can contact the AYCC to apply. Interested parties will attend an informational session on Zoom, apply and go through a multi-step interview process. A required background check includes screening national FBI fingerprinting, child abuse offenders, sex offender registry and criminal history. References are also required for applicants.

“I think this program is more important than ever,” Johnson said.

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