When the New York City marketing agency where Susi Tully worked shut down, she knew that she wanted to make the jump into the non-profit industry. So along with Pastor Chris High of Grace Community Church in Hoboken and friend Ryan Dominguez, Tully set up a startup organization in Hoboken called TRUE Mentors. TRUE stands for “True Relationships Unearth Excellence.”
The program, which officially launched in January, matches adults from Hoboken and neighboring Hudson County cities with children aged 7 – 17 in need of mentoring.
“If at the end of the year you’ve only changed your life, that’s unacceptable. Reach out and help others.” – Chris High
Tully had been involved in the Big Brother/Big Sister program on a volunteer basis in Newark. So when the opportunity arose, she joined TRUE Mentors full-time last August to help begin the design of the new program.
One on one relationship
Tully wasn’t the only one whose past experience with children influenced her. High had worked with local children at the Jubilee Center, a non-profit facility near the city’s housing projects that provides activities for local kids including help with homework.
“While after-school programs do a great job with kids in a similar situation, there’s only one teacher for every 10 to 15 kids,” High said. “But no one knows what’s going on in these kids’ lives until you spend one-on-one time with them.”
Tully worked with High and Dominguez from August 2010 to January 2011 designing TRUE Mentors.
The funding for the program comes from federal, state, and municipal grants, fundraising, events, and partnerships with the business community. The organization has plans to launch an online sponsorship program. TRUE Mentors recently received their non-profit status.
After months of planning, Tully said she was very happy with the response to the launch in January.
“We had an enormous turnout of about 100 children and adults,” Tully said. “The mayor came and issued a decree for Mentor’s Month. It was great.”
The volunteer-based program has directors of marketing, training, fundraising, and volunteers.
Who are the mentors?
Tully’s average day as the only paid employee of the program includes interviewing potential mentors and mentees, looking for opportunities for fundraisers and grants, working with groups to make sure events are executed properly, and working with volunteers.
The program has received approximately 50 applications for mentors, and approximately 35 mentees are now in the program.
“We recruit mentors through many different ways,” Tully said. “People often come directly to us. They can fill out an application. We also work with organizations like Hoboken Volunteers, Party with a Purpose, and we speak with clubs like the Hoboken Rotary Club.”
The average mentors are 25 to 35 years old, and they are people “who really want to get involved in the community,” according to Tully. A mentor spends an average of two to three hours per week with his or her mentee.
“We have a wide variety of people who are mentoring,” Tully said. “We have applicants from the Hoboken Fire Department, professionals that work in New York City, people from top financial firms, also we have a director of a software company; it’s pretty varied.”
Potential mentors are interviewed, given background checks, and provided with a half-day training session.
“The parents ultimately decide if it’s a match between a mentor and a mentee,” Tully said. “If parents give the okay, then they sit down and create a schedule.”
High’s busy life hasn’t stopped him from being a part of the program.
“My wife and I just had a baby, but I’ve still been in contact with my mentee,” High said. “It seems overwhelming at first but these kids just need someone to believe in them; someone to cheer for them and give them support.”
Tully said mentees generally come from low income and single-family homes.
The program has received “tremendous” support from local businesses, and there are times when Tully and TRUE Mentors are able to give back.
“We want to be able to help them too,” Tully said. “So on some nights we have ‘guest scoopers’ at Ben and Jerry’s. We try to stir up business for them on slow nights.”
In addition to the mentoring, the organization also holds educational classes at night for the mentees.
Tully teaches cooking to the youngsters, while other classes include arts and crafts and acting. Volunteers have included Stevens Institute students who come in to talk to the children.
Tully said the program has a great need for more male mentors.
To help promote the program to potential male mentors, on Saturday, April 2, TRUE Mentors held a male only, basketball tournament at the Boys and Girls Club, and broadcasted the college basketball games on televisions for attendees.
The organization is holding another fundraiser on April 9 at The Shannon.
“We want it to be a long running program,” Tully said. “We’re always working on maintaining and fine tuning this growing organization.”
For those considering becoming mentors, High has some advice.
“Don’t live a dream only as one person,” he said. “If at the end of the year you’ve only changed your life, that’s unacceptable. Reach out and help others.”
For more information, check out Truementors.org.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com