When Jean Shankle first talked to friends about signing up as a mentor for the new Hands Across our Community program last winter, some of them were not enthusiastic about the idea.
She remembers explaining that the goal of Hands Across is to pair people who are struggling financially but want to become self-sufficient with “community coaches” who would take part in the program with them and be there for encouragement and advice.
“I had some friends and family say, ‘These people won’t change, they don’t care about their future, they’re just in it for the money,’” Shankle recalled this week. “But the people who said that were wrong. As I spent time in Hands Across, I saw that these people could hope and dream again.”
And so Shankle has signed up to be a mentor again when the second Hands Across “class” begins around July 1.
The challenge for her and the other mentors, along with program director Christina Brodie, is to find other “community coaches” who are willing to work through their stereotypes and pre-judgments to offer a hand to local families in need.
The pilot Hands Across class met from mid-February through mid-May and was made up of four families — three couples with children and one single mother.
For the families involved, the program consists of 13 weekly “classes” plus regular meetings with their mentor. After that, they commit to continue meeting with their mentor at least once a month and attend monthly group meetings for a minimum of six months up to a year.
For the mentors or community coaches, the commitment begins with four two-hour training sessions to ensure that they are comfortable dealing with the kinds of issues that may arise. Then they will attend all 13 weekly sessions and the subsequent monthly meetings with their paired family. The mentors will also take part in twice-a-month “support meetings” to “reinforce that no coach is alone and that we all help each other,” Brodie explained.
For Shankle and the other three mentors from the pilot program — all of whom have committed to taking on another family in the second class — the time and effort is worth it.
“This caused me to really examine my core values and the ethics I was raised with,” said Shankle, who grew up on a farm south of Concordia before spending the bulk of her adult life in Southern California. She returned to Concordia about five years ago.
“I was able to tell them stories about how I survived,” she added. “And as they began to trust me, they began to see there was hope — and that gave me hope that we could work together.”
Building that kind of trust is central to the success of the program, Brodie says. And the ability and willingness to make a commitment to for at least a year is equally important, she added.
“It’s a long-term proposition,” Brodie said. “The families that are participating and the mentors have to be in it for the long haul. Building a foundation for a stronger, healthier life isn’t about a single workshop or a single issue.”
Right now the most critical need is for people interested in being mentors, and while the time commitment might seem daunting, Shankle says it is absolutely worth it.
“It makes me so thankful to a part of this,” she said. “God has given each of us gifts, and to not use those gifts is wrong. I remember how people helped me at different times in my life, and that memory opens my heart and my mind to want to give back what I was given.”
Anyone interested in learning more about becoming a mentor or any other aspects of Hands Across the Community is encouraged to contact Brodie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 275-2101. Families interested in learning how to part in the program are also encouraged to contact her.