2006-03-30 The Grand Rapids Press Mentors share cultures with migrant children

Mentors share cultures with migrant children
Grand Rapids Press

The Migrant Mentor Program is looking for a few good people this season. “We are looking for people who want to share their experience and life with a child and open them to the resources of the community,” said Teresa Oosterhout, the program’s coordinator.
The program is organized through the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance to provide children of migrant families’ opportunities to learn about another culture, while also opening doors to the migrant community and their families. Oosterhout said Lakeshore churches have been good sources for mentors in the past. “I came into the program through my church,” she said.

Although many parishioners attend churches frequented by migrant families, other churches are not always aware of the migrant families and the opportunities for cross-cultural experiences. “Last year, we matched 69 mentors with children,” she said. “We could have matched as many as 80 more.” Children already are waiting for mentors, as the program runs from March through November.

“We know people do go away during the summer, and that is IK,” Oosterhout said, adding mentors can make their own schedules of time and availability. Although no stipends for expenses are offered, some area businesses such as restaurants and amusements do have coupons for free or discounted activities that are made available to the program and mentors.

She is seeking mentors who are willing to learn about another culture and have a minimum of four hours a week to spend with a child. Area opportunities and destinations abound for mentors who want to take children on outings. Parks, beaches, zoos, amusement and recreation facilities are among the options, Oosterhout said. The children are generally ages 6 to high school age.

Although fluency in the Spanish language is not required, those who have some conversational abilities in Spanish have an advantage of getting closer to the child’s family too, she said. Often Oosterhout will visit the migrant camps form Holland to Grand Haven in the evenings to meet with parents, visit and play with the children and also find more children to recruit into the program.

“We found that some mentors spend a lot more time with the children than the minimum four hours a week that we ask for, “she said.