Saturday, March 22, 2008

Orphan Foundation of America v-mentoring program

The Orphan Foundation of America's vMentor Program uses technology to match volunteer mentors with current and former foster youth ages 16-23 who are in the process of transitioning from foster care to adulthood. Mentors must be 25 years of age or older, and established in their profession or career.

Matching Process
Mentors and mentees each fill out a profile, and answer a series of questions. The computer sorts through both to measure the compatibility of their answers.

The Orphan Foundation of America's Matching Coordinator looks at the top 10 mentor matches for each mentee, considering race, religion and sexual orientation if the mentee has indicated that these particular characteristics are important in their mentor.

The top 3 choices of mentors are given to the mentee, and the young person gets to choose. The mentee also has the option to refuse all three, and get three more mentor choices. OFA is lucky to have a pool of mentors, although they could always use more male mentors.

Resources for Mentors
The Orphan Foundation of America's v-mentoring program offers monthly support calls and trainings once a quarter. Mentors can participate by phone. There are also frequent newsletters with helpful tips and timely information.

The mentoring portal has a wealth of resources for both mentors and mentees, including a continually-growing resource library and modules written by Jane O'Leary, so that if a young person mentions having a certain issue, the mentor has resources and can make a timely intervention.

At first, it was hoped that mentors and mentees could go through the mentoring modules in a sequential manner, as a way to structure their contact. However, life is unpredictable, and the top priority is connecting with that young person exactly where they are, and building the mentor-mentee relationship.

This project was initially funded through a grant from the Northrop Grumman Foundation. OFA continues to sustain the program financialls through:

- OFA scholarship funds, funded by Casey and private individuals
- Nine states (including NC) allow OFA to manage all their ETV funds
- North Carolina contracts with OFA to manage their Chafee funding as well

They also rely on grants that focus on bridging the gap between high school and post-secondary school for foster care alumni.

This year, the Orphan Foundation of America will be hiring an outside evaluator to do hard data regarding outcome measurement.

In the meantime, mentors and mentees are frequently invited to fill out online surveys. The vmentoring portal measures the frequency of contact between mentor and mentee. OFA has information about the mentees with which they can generate spreadsheets regarding academic and personal milestones.

Future Plans
The vmentoring portal was designed by Rich Webb, who continues to update it frequently. It is an ever-evolving resource, with fabulous features. In the future, the goal is utilize Genesis webinar in order to:

- Expand trainings with polls, powerpoint presentations and surveys
- Record and post trainings, and migrate them to create a "Mentor Training Library"
- Incorporate cognitive coaching techniques, such as 'planning maps' and 'problem-solving maps'

OFA is grateful for the insights of Colorado Center for Cognitive Coaching, a supervisory peer-coaching model dedicated to facilitate the development of 'self-directed youth,' and empower them to recognize and utilize all of their available resources.

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