By Alaina Rosenberry
Much has changed in my nine-year tenure at SLM. Over the years we’ve changed our name, more than tripled the number of youth we serve in mentoring relationships, developed new services and more recently launched a national arm to bring our best practices to mentoring programs and child welfare providers around the country. That’s why last month, I was so grateful to see that while so much keeps changing, there is at least one constant that remains at SLM: the significance of our annual camping trip. Each year our programming team gears up to take a group of mentors and mentees down to the YMCA’s Camp Burgess in Sandwich, MA for an action-packed weekend on the cape.
On the planning side, this trip isn’t for the faint of heart. Our group this year totaled 30 people including mentors, mentees and SLM staff. It takes months and months of coordination with camp staff, DCF workers, mentors, parents and guardians to ensure that our mentees will have what they need to have a great time with their mentor and SLM staff and make memories that will last a lifetime. For many of our mentees, this is the first time they are finding themselves away from their residences and out in nature for an extended period of time. The camping trip is an opportunity for young people to try things out and experience some of their “firsts”- climbing a rock wall, sitting around a campfire, paddling a canoe and for some, learning to swim. For most of our matches, it’s the first time they are spending 36 hours together, including an overnight in a cabin filled with other matches and SLM staff. It’s a significant experience for both mentors and mentees not without its challenges but also filled with many enduring rewards.
Throughout the weekend I was continually reminded about the value of these relationships and why mentoring for youth in foster care is such a valuable investment. Our mentors went the distance to ensure their mentees felt safe, engaged and able to try out new experiences supported by their peers, mentor and SLM community. Because the camping trip weekend contains so many “firsts” it’s not unusual for our young people to struggle at different points over the weekend. This year was no different and I was so grateful to see the skilled and compassionate support of our highly skilled clinically trained program team at the ready to support our mentors and mentees through whatever challenge they were experiencing. Our team is able to navigate complex situations as they arise ensuring that physical and emotional safety are a priority, while also balancing the needs and experience of the larger group. While it is a marathon of a weekend, our program staff execute this event with energy, positivity and a genuine interest in providing a great experience for our matches. I feel so lucky to be able to connect with our young people through this event. I’m so impressed by their courage and willingness to try something new and I am ever grateful for the incredible support provided by our committed mentors and talented programming team every year.