How Lowell Non-Profit Made Pivot to Virtual Mentoring

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Edward Banks, the program coordinator at Mill City Mentors. Ed began working at MCM in 2019 after obtaining his master’s in curriculum and instruction from Fitchburg State University. His expertise has helped enable the program to expand online and widen their impact. MMP supports Mill City Mentors through funding and their AmeriCorps Ambassador of Mentoring Kyle Cregg. They serve about 40 families a year and focus on at-risk youth between 7-22 years old. Recently, they have shifted to focus on site-based school programs to enable their mentors to be on-site more often and more engaging. Although their commitment to serving youth has been challenged, it has not wavered. Mill City Mentors is a fantastic program, and MMP is proud to call them a partner.

Mill City Mentors recently began experimenting with virtual mentoring to continue their mission during quarantine. The shift has been very intensive, but Mill City Mentors is committed to putting their best foot forward and helping as many people as they can experience the power of mentoring: “We have had some great things happening with our program before the virus spreading and we will continue to kick butt with our mentors and mentees.”

In order to test out the new platform, Ed took on the first virtual mentee, an eight year old boy. After meeting him and his family on Zoom, Ed discovered a mutual love for video games, and they were able to connect online through the Nintendo Switch. You can find many classic Nintendo games like Mario Kart/Party, as well as some new additions which are great fun for the whole family such as Overcooked, Mario Maker, Stardew Valley, and Animal Crossing. Additionally, the Mill City team has been creating online videos for the kids in their programs, and they are also excellent tools for mentors and mentees to follow along as fun match activity ideas. Some of their videos include cooking a pizza, making paper airplanes, and more!

Before this all began, MCM paired with a local Starbucks, who offered to donate coffee and food for their fundraisers and meetings for up to 200 people. Mentors and mentees can also use this particular Starbucks as a meeting space and receive free coffee and pastries. Starbucks has been a force in the mentoring field lately. MMP paired with them and the Mayor’s Mentoring Movement last year for a speed mentoring event and intend to continue working with them. It is clear that their support for mentoring is genuine and pervasive throughout the community. We are happy to see their connection with our partners, and we hope that mentors and mentees are able to take advantage of this fantastic opportunity.

With any new system, challenges are sure to arise. Ed mentioned revising paperwork to meet new expectations. In particular, consent forms for online mentoring are necessary to ensure everyone’s safety. Additionally, internet stability could rise to be a potential issue. Video conferencing through programs such as Zoom takes quite a bit of bandwidth, which could be difficult in areas without the proper infrastructure.