2005-03-30 Grand Rapids Press Mentor program connects families

Mentor program connects families
Grand Rapids Press

Ottawa County – When Marcie Lynch became a mentor, she know she would helping a child of a migrant workers become more familiar with this area’s culture.

What the Grand Haven woman didn’t expect was that 11-year-old Daniela Mar would become best friends with her daughter, or that both families would spend Easter Sunday together.

“It’s not just connected that two of us, it’s also connected the two families,’ said Lynch, who two years ago became a mentor through the Ottawa County-based Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance.

“She probably gives us much more than we give her,” she said of Daniela, 11, of West Olive. “She’s a wonderful child and has added a lot to our family.”

LEDA is looking for more mentors like Lynch, who can become cultural bridges between local communities and migrant families just settling in the area. Mentors provide educational and social support to children and their families, and help them become more familiar with community resources available to them.

Last year, LEDA matched 52 children to volunteer mentors who were screened and trained for the partnership.

Gail Harrison, LEDA’s executive director, said the 6-year-old program has been successful not only in helping migrant children, but in allowing mentors to understand the difficult conditions migrant workers live in. Poverty, limited educational opportunities, lack of health care while being exposed to pesticides, are some of those, she said.

“Volunteers learn so much from the families and they realized that (migrant) families have a culture of faith, family and work,” she said. “They see they are in conditions that they would never allow their own children to live in and they become advocates for them.”

Daniela is happy to have a mentor in Lynch. Because both her parents work six days a week, the girl rarely had the opportunity to go out, she said. Now she called Lynch.

“I go to her house a lot and every time I go, we go to the movies, or to the library or to the park. We do a bunch of fun things,” Daniela said.

“And I have more opportunities because I got to learn English. She helps me read a little more to understand the words.”

Daniela, the only girl of four siblings, also has found someone to talk to in Lunch’s 15-year-old daughter, Alysha. The two girls are fast friends.

“I can talk to them about stuff I can’t talk to my brothers,” Daniela said.