2009-08-07 / Your City

Volunteers needed for pilot mentoring program

Montachusett Interfaith Hospitality Network needs you

If you are looking to volunteer to help change the life of a family in distress, the Montachusett Interfaith Hospitality Network is looking for you.

MIHN is an organization of parishes in the area that helps families who are homeless for a variety of reasons get themselves on the road to independence and their lives back on track.

Patty Grimm said the network, "has been around for seven years, and to date has served 92 families with transitional housing in Northern Worcester County."

Currently a shelter in Leominster is operational thanks to donations, and a staff of approximately 400 volunteers from every walk of life.

"The shelter was located in Fitchburg for a while. We provide a roof over their heads, hot meals every night and the opportunity to start getting back on their feet," Grimm explained.

She said the number one priority, "is to keep them together as a family."

Many of what Grimm called the "new poor are people who have lost their jobs in the sour economy, and are being evicted from their current living space.Many of them paid their rent all along, but if the landlord did not live up to his or her obligations, the house is foreclosed on and the family is now out on the street."

The shelter has a waiting list to get in, and MIHN receives calls every day from another family needing shelter.

MIHN does not preach any religious beliefs, it is a collaboration of 10 local parishes that have banded together to aid families in crisis. Each week a different parish is used for staffing at the shelter, providing meals and making sure the children has a box lunch for school.

"We provide what they need," Grimm said.

Eileen OLeary, acting MIHN president said the network works very hard with their clients in encouraging them to seek out new employment, and to be able to leave the shelter to move into transitional housing.

"The first year out of the shelter, the state provided rent and utility money. The second year out, they have to step up and pay their own rent, utilities, or 30 percent of their income," she explained.

MIHN just received a grant for a mentoring program which would provide a mentor to a family to teach them how to restart their lives and ways to conserve their limited funds. Leominster is the first county in the commonwealth to receive this grant and start a pilot program for mentors.

"We've all seen the third generation of poor, families that have survived on welfare for their whole lives. The new poor does not know how to think ahead. Someone can teach them how to put money aside for next year, and years afterward," OLeary said.

"The mentor would guide the family and teach them life skills to be independent and responsible. A mentor is an everyday citizen who has experienced life.You do not need to be a professional person, just some one who is a parent, held a job of any type and wants to help," Grimm added.

Some of the skills that would be worked on is teaching the family how to shop, and take advantage of things such as food pantries and consignment shops for children's clothing. Opportunities for children to attend activities such as The Boys and Girls Club and other organizations that offer summer programs are other issues struggling families can utilize.

"It is becoming an advocate for a family in crisis, and what a way to get involved in your community," Grimm noted.

"The program consists of volunteering one hour a month, with a six hour training program that we offer to anyone interested in becoming a mentor. It is really becoming a gentle friend to guide a family along that is need of help," OLeary said.

Both Grimm and OLeary are very excited about the pilot mentoring program as it is something that will be a model for other communities to follow.

"There are poor people hiding in plain sight. It could be the person waiting on you at the cashier's line, the waitress serving you at your favorite restaurant, or your next door neighbor seconds away from becoming homeless due to no fault of their own. How great would this look on your resume that you are a mentor for a family in need?" OLeary said.

Anyone interested in learning more about the mentoring program can contact Patty Grimm at (508) 527-2912 or Pattyg56@verizon.net

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