Mission Nonprofit Spotlight: MENTOR Washington

Each month, Thurston Community Media (TCMedia)’s Mission Nonprofit connects with local organizations and agencies that are making positive impacts in our communities. This month, Mission Nonprofit host Robert Kam sat down with Executive Director, James Miles, and Partnership Director, Tom Pennella of MENTOR Washington to discuss National Mentoring Month and what their organization does in Washington State.

Formerly Mentoring Works Washington, MENTOR Washington was created in 2004 to support mentorship programs throughout the state. Their mission is to, “promote, support, and expand quality mentoring that fosters positive youth development, academic success, and job and career readiness.”

MENTOR Washington sees a real need for mentors within our state, and works with programs to create more opportunities for students in need. According to their website, “We estimate there are more than 240,000 children in Washington State who could benefit from having a mentor and only 23,000 who have one. This leaves a gap of more than 200,000 youth without a mentor.”

The nonprofit works to combat this through its partnership with Department of Children, Youth and Families. “We serve the entire state, all 39 counties and 29 tribes,” says James, “supporting, fomenting and providing quality assurance to mentoring programs across the state of Washington.”

In total, they partner with about 150 youth development providers. MENTOR Washington supports these groups with training, capacity building, funding, resource sharing and quality assurance. As a supporter of other mentoring groups, MENTOR Washington also provides funding through grants. They awarded four groups $5,000 each in 2021 to continue mentoring, recruit more mentors and find more way to reach youth who need mentoring.

One of the biggest things they do, James says, is advocacy, “Talking about policy affecting youth ages 5 to 25 in our state.” January is National Mentoring Month. Members of the board of MENTOR Washington will be headed to Washington D.C. this month to advocate on the importance of mentoring to our legislators.

Tom Pennella has been with MENTOR Washington for 20 years, since before it officially started. “Back in 1999 we used it as a prevention strategy,” Tom explains, “and how do we combat substance abuse, drug/alcohol issues, but mentoring does so much more than that you know?” Mentoring decreases academic failures. Kids with mentors are less likely to engage in physical violence, crime or become teen parents, Tom adds.

“Mentoring does nor replace a parent, but it gives kids an extra set of tools,” Tom explains.

Here in Thurston County, they work with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Washington, GRuB, and TOGETHER!, as well as local high schools. “Recently me and James are working with Olympia High School and Capitol, working with a gentleman providing a BIPOC mentoring program for BIPOC students.”

Want to Mentor or Need a Mentor? It’s Easy!

Simply go to the MENTOR Washington website and fill out the right form under “get involved.”  Many mentor programs ask for a year commitment for mentoring, so people are not coming in and out of youths’ lives. “Being a mentor is fantastic,” says Tom, “I get so much out of it. I’ve been a mentor with a young man that had deployed parents through Big Brothers Big Sisters. I’ve been with him since fourth grade, he is a sophomore now. Just him from being a little kid in elementary school now being a sophomore at River Ridge High School and stuff like that, again I get just as much out of it.”

Tom adds that you don’t need to know something specifically and it’s not hard, you just have to be committed. “The organizations will do the training,” he says. You can also give monetary donations to local mentoring groups. Businesses can host events or be a guest speaker.

They also have a form for youth looking for mentors.

For more information, watch the full video above and visit the MENTOR Washington website.

You can watch Mission Nonprofit on channel 77 on Sundays at 4:30 p.m., Tuesdays at 7 p.m., Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., and Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. You can also watch on TCMedia.org, Video On-Demand or our Roku channel. To learn more about what TCMedia does, visit the Thuston Community Media YouTube channel or the TC Media website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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