The Demeter Project: Community Mentors

A mentoring program for girls, called The Demeter Project, is described in detail.
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Mentoring requires school support

As New and other volunteers continued the project – both in Seattle and Iowa City, Iowa, where New moved the following year – they discovered that locating enthusiastic volunteers was never a problem. Finding a dedicated host teacher and a school with a flexible schedule proved more difficult. When Maynard left for maternity leave, no other teacher was willing to shoulder the work of preparing the girls for the meetings and coordinating times with the volunteers. And in Iowa, despite another long list of community women who were eager to be involved, New had a hard time finding a school willing to let girls out of their regular schedules, even if it was for only five meetings. This was the smallest number of meetings she could pare the curriculum to and still have it be meaningful.

While community members definitely need to have patience with schools’ schedules, says New, schools must also be flexible if they want to tap the awesome lode of volunteers available in most communities. "People are usually willing to bend over backwards to work with schools," she notes, "but schools have to meet them partway."

Mentor volunteers contact New often, saying they’re ready whenever they’re needed. She runs into girls, now high school students, who tell her that Demeter made a profound difference in their lives. Megan Knight, a university professor who participated in the Iowa Demeter Project, notes, "It’s a great project on so many levels. It allows a person a rare chance to reflect on herself as a younger person. As an adult, you realize you’ve learned a lot in the past ten or twenty years; and you can see the girls getting a look into their own futures, clearly rethinking things in a very meaningful way." All that for just a lot of hard work and honest talk.

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