United Way offering mentoring training

Whether your heart is in helping needy families or working with troubled teens, there are plenty of opportunities locally to make a difference in someone's life.

The United Way of the Lowcountry encourages eager volunteers to become mentors, offering their time, friendship and counsel to people who want to improve their lives. A mentor should be like a trusted friend who is there for you when you need him.

But first, the organization wants to equip you with the tools you'll need to be successful.

"It's much more encompassing than just saying, 'OK, I think I can volunteer and be a mentor,' " said United Way volunteer Carolann Roberto.

She said mentors need certain skills, supervision and possibly agency-specific training. She will discuss those skills during a free 12-hour mentor training program the United Way is offering to the public. The program will span four sessions, beginning Tuesday on Hilton Head Island.

Roberto said she will discuss the qualities a mentor should possess. She will talk about the mentoring process, communication skills, problem-solving skills, diversity and boundaries.

At the end of the program, students who have attended all four sessions will receive a certificate and the United Way will help connect them with agencies looking for mentors.

United Way of the Lowcountry Director of Resource Services Bethany Marcinkowski said some of the groups that have expressed interest in finding new mentors include the Beaufort County School District, Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry, The Children's Center and a few Boys & Girls Clubs.

"It's for any nonprofit agency in the area that could utilize mentors," she said.

Roberto and another volunteer, Phyllis Doyle, developed the mentoring program more than 10 years ago, when they were volunteering with the United Way of Northern New Jersey, Morris County. Doyle said the organization decided to launch a community initiative to benefit agencies with mentoring programs, the clients of those agencies and the mentors. The two women were asked to develop a training program.

Years later, both women relocated from New Jersey to Bluffton, without knowing the other had moved. When Roberto heard Doyle was in town, she contacted her, and they decided to launch the mentoring program in the Lowcountry.

Doyle said the classes were well-received in New Jersey and are still going strong. She said the program has been modified, updated and improved over the years so it stays relevant and meaningful to participants.

The local United Way plans to offer the program quarterly, Marcinkowski said.

"I think it will be a starting point for people who are looking to do something substantial," she said. "It will give them an opportunity to really make a difference."