Children and Youth mentoring program looking for volunteers
LOCK HAVEN — In a maze of hallways and offices filled with squealing children and ringing phones at 8 N. Grove St. in Lock Haven sits the headquarters of the Reach Out Mentoring Program (ROMP) through Children and Youth Services.
Clinton County’s ROMP, formerly known as the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, is a community mentoring program that provides one-on-one support in the form of a mentor to youth in need of adult support and friendship.
ROMP also coordinates group activities for all participants to attend.
In a conference room, a small, blonde 9-year-old named Blaze Krape chattered excitedly about all the activities he gets to do as part of ROMP.
“We go to the Jersey Shore swimming pool and we swim around in there,” he said.
“It’s fun!” quipped his brother, Kazen, who was eating pizza.
Kazen and Blaze are two of 40 to 45 children between the ages of 6 and 17 who participate in ROMP. But only 10 are matched with a mentor.
“We are definitely in need of volunteers,” said Tristan Rock, program supervisor at CYS.
Mentors must commit to a spending an hour of quality time with their match two to four times a month, for a minimum of a year.
Clarissa Shirk and Kaylee Mulhollan are the dedicated presence behind this program.
Shirk, 32, attended Lock Haven University and majored in social work. She became part of the BBBS program in 2012 and worked on and off with them until 2016, when she was promoted to program coordinator. She also coordinates the Independent Living program through CYS, which helps youths ages 16 to 21 living in foster or group care learn life skills to prepare them for adulthood.
Mulhollan, 22, is a recent graduate of LHU in psychology. She started interning with BBBS in 2016.
“I fell in love with the program,” she said.
They created a part-time position for her while she was still in school, and she switched to full-time upon her December 2016 graduation.
Both Shirk and Mulhollan are mentors in ROMP. Shirk mentors Kirsten Ferree, 14, and Mulhollan mentors Blaze.
Madalyn Smith, 25, mentors Aaliyah James, 9.
Smith shared some stories about the times she and Aaliyah spent together.
“Once, Aaliyah and I went to a farm…to meet a calf that was just born,” she said. “When we got there, Aaliyah was scared because she realized she’d never been that close to cows before.”
But, Smith said, over the course of the visit, Aaliyah started feeling more brave. She eventually got close enough to the cows to touch them. It was a big moment for her.
“This one time, me and Kaylee went fishing and we found a bee in the water!” said Blaze, excitedly.
The kids said they’ve done everything from cooking a Thanksgiving dinner to taking a trip to Knoebels Amusement Park.
“I like green bean casserole or sweet potatoes,” said Kirsten.
“Before everything was ready, I took a little taste test,” said Blaze.
This year, participants in ROMP also went to a color run, had International Night at Ross Library, went to a Halloween party, wrote holiday cards to veterans, had a Fear Factor boys’ night (which included eating bugs) and a spa girls’ night, went to a pumpkin patch and went snow tubing.
Aaliyah said her favorite part of the Halloween party was “falling off the stage.” All the mentors laughed and said she probably had a good time dancing.
“I did a front flip,” said Blaze.
“That barrel race we did (was fun),” said Kirsten.
“I won,” said Blaze.
“No you didn’t, keep dreaming,” teased Kirsten.
In October, Clinton County’s ROMP disaffiliated from the national organization BBBS of America because it could not meet its changing standards for county programs, like having a staff of three to four people, a yearly revenue of $200,000 and providing 100 “big brother/big sister” matches.
But the program has remained virtually the same, with Shirk and Mulhollan trying to spread the word about ROMP at every opportunity possible.
ROMP faces more changes than just its name.
In mid-February, the Grove Street CYS offices will move to the county’s Piper Blue Building where the Garden Building CYS offices will join them.
Mulhollan is hoping the move will increase volunteering. She is also excited to be closer to the other CYS departments and have more office space to conduct family and mentor interviews.
“That’ll be helpful to have their additional support,” she said.
There is also a small park next to the building that Mulhollan hopes will provide a calmer environment for children who might be scared to enter an office space.
“The transition from Big Brothers Big Sisters to Reach Out Mentoring has been a lot of work,” said Shirk. “But it’s very rewarding knowing that we can continue to offer mentoring services in Clinton County for youth in need.”
They have had to update their policies and procedures to make sure all the children are being helped and kept safe.
Shirk said that their focus on the transition means they have dedicated less time to recruiting volunteers.
“Finding volunteers has been extremely difficult,” said Shirk. “Even when we do find volunteers interested in the program, the ratio of them that actually go through all of the steps and move on to being matched is very minimal.”
“We need to get the word out about the program a little more,” said Mulhollan.
She said ROMP is hoping to advertise through the radio station 92.1 WSQV and get posters made to put up around town.
“I think a lot of people don’t know our program exists,” she said, and that’s why there are so few volunteers.
Most of the kids said their favorite part of ROMP was being able to get out of the house and have fun.
“To get away from my brothers!” added Aaliyah.
Many of the ROMP participants come from homes where parents work long hours or where the family dynamic is unstable. They rely on the positive interactions they get from their ROMP mentors.
“I like to go to the ice cream shack,” said Aaliyah.
“She never gets the same thing,” said Smith, with a laugh.
“Me, Kaylee, Kirsten and Clarissa went to the movies,” said Blaze.
Kirsten said she and Shirk are working their way through all the Harry Potter movies.
Destiny Brennan, 11, said she likes to cook healthy dinners with her mentor.
All the children said they are looking forward to ice skating, snow tubing on Tussey Mountain and sled riding.
When the kids started talking about their favorite part of having a mentor, Kazen inched under the table.
“He’s being bashful,” said Blaze.
Blaze then announced that his favorite part of having Kaylee as a mentor is “that she’s part of my family.”
Clinton County ROMP will host an open house Jan. 24 from 4 to 7 p.m. at 8 N. Grove St. Suite #2, Lock Haven. Light refreshments will be provided.