Category: Mentoring

Including Children and Youth with Special Needs in Religious Education Settings

children with notebooksMany parents of children with special needs choose not to put their children in religion classes and youth groups. There are many reasons for this. Some parents are afraid their child will have trouble during a quiet moment and disrupt the class. Others fear volunteer instructors will feel burdened by their child’s needs or behaviors. Some might feel ashamed of their child or afraid of what their child might do or say. They might avoid such public settings. Indeed, there are challenges in creating programs for all children, but these guidelines can help things go smoothly.

What Parents Can Do

Parents sometimes choose not to be direct about their child’s special needs. This causes extra stress in religious communities. For example, the instructor and program director might worry about a child, and wonder if the parents know their child has a learning disability or ADHD.  When parents are forthcoming about their child’s needs, supports can be put in place. The leader and child can get off to a good start when parents meet with the program director and talk about how to best help their child.

What Religious Educators Can Do

Including youth and children with special needs will bring about some challenges, but religious educators help.

  • Adults can be added to improve the adult-to-child ratio.
  • Extra time can be scheduled for parent communication.
  • Volunteer staff can be offered support and training.
  • Grants can be obtained to cover assistive technology, American Sign Language interpreter services, or professionally trained one-to-one aides.

What Inclusion Can Do

Many benefits come from including children with special needs in religion classes and youth groups.

  • Children with special needs receive religious instruction and feel part of the group.
  • All children and teens gain experience from being around a variety of peers. They likely learn that others are not so different than themselves.
  • As more children and teens with special needs attend classes and services, the community culture changes and including all children becomes the usual way of doing things.
  • Parents of special needs children enjoy the support of their community.

Integrating children with special needs in religious education settings benefits the community as a whole. This, in turn, has a positive effect on our society.

Self Advocate Shares Experience as a Successful Trainer

Nora McShane, Guest Blogger

This week we introduce Nora McShane who is returning as a guest blogger to share her experience as a trainer. Nora has lived independently for the last six years and became involved with her self advocacy group  several years ago. She is currently the president of  the S.A.F.E. group at Minute Man Arc in Concord  and a member of their Board of Directors.

Becoming a trainer

Recently, I was asked by my mentor, Sue Crossley, to present a training about proper nutrition at an advocacy meeting in Worcester.  At first I felt a little anxious but I was also excited at the opportunity.

I was encouraged to give my own presentation entitled “Making Healthier Food Choices” as well as a separate training using an iPad. Sue came to my apartment and gave me training on how to use the iPad. The training made me feel more confident because I had learned a new skill.

Building confidence

When I got to the Worcester meeting I felt really excited. I was so honored to be able to teach my peers about nutrition and living a healthier lifestyle. There were around a dozen people from H.M.E.A. who were willing to hear me speak and be their trainer. Everyone watched and listened while I presented my own food plate demonstration. Everyone seemed eager to learn and ask questions.

After the training I felt very positive about my performance and I felt like I had accomplished a goal. I made positive strides toward being a more confident public speaker.

I’m glad I was asked to participate; it’s good to feel like I’ve been helpful. It feels good to share my knowledge with others.

Join us next week to hear about additional trainings being offered throughout the state by and for people with disabilities.

Board Director Shares her Experience as Mentor

This week I introduce Elizabeth Berk, a former board member of Minute Man Arc and presently a mentor for Mary, who we met last week. Liz shares her experience and insight into having people with intellectual disabilities serving as board directors.

Learning from colleagues

Mary Blauvert and Liz Berk
Mary Blauvert and Liz Berk

Liz began the conversation with a simple observation.

“Over the years, our board has diversified. We now have more business leaders and others who aren’t necessarily friends or family of a person with a disability. For these new members, this may be the first time they are meeting someone with a disability”.

As she spoke, I realized the issue was not only about advocating for people with disabilities to be board members for their own benefit; there was also another advantage at hand.

If Board Directors are introduced to a person with a disability as a respected colleague, everyone benefits.

Training and support

We discussed the process of Mary joining the board and receiving support.

“Mary had some training before joining the board and was presented with a few other candidates. It was important because the board members all felt comfortable that she had passed the training and understood what was involved.”

The board training was a series of four group sessions followed by a meeting with the Board President and Liz as Mary’s mentor.

“To be a mentor, I think it’s important that the person has experience and understands people with disabilities. They should also be committed to educating the other Board members as to how viable they are.”

Challenge addressed

Liz explained her approach to one of the challenges.

“This month I realized the financial report will be most of the meeting, so I explained to Mary that she can abstain from voting if she feels overwhelmed by all the information. She had very good questions about what it meant to abstain and I think she is going into the meeting feeling very comfortable.’

Benefit to all

Liz shared her final thoughts about the impact Mary has had on the other board directors.

“I will never forget a comment by one of the board members after Mary attended her first meeting. He explained to me in complete candor that he was hesitant when he first heard that two people with disabilities would be joining the board. Yet after the meeting he was so impressed with what they had to say and realized how much he would learn from them both.”

She described it as a pyramid effect where the board members would now bring their experience back to their community organizations and everyone benefits in the process.


Exploring Massachusetts Mentoring Resources

Magnifying glass showing motivation terms and the word "mentor"This week we share the following resources for mentors looking to make a difference and special opportunities for youth with disabilities looking to reach their full potential with support from a mentor.

1. Partners for Youth with Disabilities
(PYD) offers one-to-one & group mentoring programs where adult mentors with and without disabilities act as positive role models and provide support and guidance for youth with disabilities. PYD’s unique programs include Access to theater, recreational activities at select Boston YMCAs, healthy living, and an entrepreneur’s project. For info on the Mentor Match program, contact Jeff Lafata, at 617-556-4075 x18.

Other resources on the PYD site include:

2. Best Buddies Jobs
an inspirational program that provides leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For additional information contact Jake Laverriere, ,  (617) 778-0522.

3. REC Connect
a program of the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Universal Access Program serving people with physical disabilities in Greater Boston, Worcester and Holyoke, MA interested in expanding their recreation opportunities. REC Connect is currently looking for Peer Mentors and Volunteers for adaptive recreation. To apply, contact Heidi Marie-Peterson at Heidi.Marie-Peterson@

4. Mass Mentoring Partnership
is the statewide umbrella organization for more than 170 organizations supporting 23,000 youth in mentoring relationships.

  • Mentoring Opportunities Near You
    provides a searchable database by zip code and distance.  For an “Advanced” search, you can narrow it down by age group.

5. Mentor:  National Mentoring Partnership
provides a variety of mentoring resources and publications.

Also check workplace human resource department, schools and universities for possible mentor / mentee opportunities.

AJ Shares his Experience as a Mentee

Larry and AJ
Larry (mentor) and AJ (mentee)

This week I have the pleasure of introducing AJ, a mentee in the Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD) program. AJ described the program, his friend/mentor, Larry and why having a mentor made a difference in his life.

Introducing our mentee

AJ began the discussion by telling me a little about himself.

“I go to Campus Academy in Stoneham, am 18 years old and I live at home. School is going well and I would say someday I want to be a woodworker. I made a really nice coffee table for my Mom out of a piece of wood and liked doing it. I have had a mentor for about five years.”

What is a mentor?

I asked AJ how he would describe a mentor.

“A mentor is someone to talk to if you have any issues, but you can also have fun together. We go out to eat, go to bookstores, events and sometimes we go to Jordans in Reading. My mentor, Larry, lives nearby so he doesn’t have to travel far to see me.”

AJ was 14 years old when he first met Larry. He spoke of him fondly, describing a friendship that has grown over the past five years.

“Larry is my best friend. He would do anything for me and I would do anything for him.”

Yet AJ used the following qualities to describe Larry as not only a good friend, but a mentor that made an impact on his life.

“What’s important if you want to be a mentor? I would say you have to be a good listener and you need to have a good sense of humor. Larry does. We also both have disabilities, but that doesn’t really matter. We have the same interests.”

A mentee becomes a future mentor

I imagine AJ and Larry will continue their friendship in the years to come.

Yet it is also important to know that Larry has inspired AJ to give back to others. He described his plans for the future.

“I want to be a mentor myself someday, so I can help somebody the way Larry helped me.”

… And that is how a mentorship program can ultimately make a difference.

Mentor Shares Personal Experience

Amy DohertyIn the previous blog,  I introduced Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD) and their mentoring program in Boston. This week I interviewed Amy Doherty, a woman with a visual impairment who shares her personal experience as a mentor.

Why be a mentor?

Amy was in her 20s when she first heard about PYD.

“Growing up, I would love to have known someone older with a disability; someone I could build a relationship with and learn from. So when I heard about a program where I could be a mentor for a child with a disability, I wanted to be part of it”.

Amy’s first match through PYD was with a senior in high school. “He wanted to know someone with a disability who had gone to college and was able to get accommodations since he would need them himself. When we first met, I knew he would be fabulous and he was. We still keep in touch.”

She spoke about her role. “I feel like I didn’t do much, but sometimes just simply being yourself and sharing your experiences may be all that’s needed to encourage someone”.

Being 10 again

Amy is now matched with a 10 year old girl who also has a visual impairment. “We do a lot of fun activities together: bowling, ice skating, swimming and playing in the park.”Amy Doherty and mentee

Amy explained that she didn’t have much experience with 10 year olds, but they had more in common than she first realized.
“I’m remembering what it’s like to be 10 again. It’s wonderful to be in a regular classroom, but you don’t often meet other people with visual impairments. I was the only one in my public school with a visual impairment so I know how it feels. Having a mentor who can relate, share advice and experiences is important.”

The give and take role of a mentor

Mentors in the program are required to have once a week contact with their mentees by phone or email. In addition, they meet once a month.

“The time commitment is very reasonable and it really is a lot of fun. You get to meet awesome people, and be yourself; I think it makes a huge difference for everyone. I have really grown and been inspired through mentoring and know many others who have as well.”

Next week you will hear from one of the mentees in the program who also feels it made a difference in their life. Stay tuned…

Mentoring Program for Youth with Disabilities Makes a Difference

When you were growing up, who made you feel good about yourself?

For me, I think that person was my brother. Although he teased me ruthlessly when we were young, he was always there for me… And when he went off to college, his letters were a precious reminder that there was someone who thought I was extraordinary.

Mentoring Program addresses a need

Everyone needs someone to make them feel good about themselves, and for many youth, mentoring programs were established to offer that support.

In 1985, Regina Snowden established Partners for Youth with Disabilities Inc (PYD) to address this specific need. As a community based mentoring program, PYD now serves youth of all disabilities between the ages of 6-24 years old.

Addressing the whole child

Last month I met staff at PYD and was truly inspired by their passion and commitment to this mission. I began by meeting with Kaela Vronsky, Mentoring and National Center Director who gave an overview of their comprehensive programs.

“Our goal is to address the whole child and use our programs, including mentoring, to help facilitate a smooth transition to independent adulthood. PYD now includes our Access to Theater, Making Healthy Connections, and Young Entrepreneurs Programs. ”

Mentoring makes a difference.

Lynn and her mentee

Jeff Lafata, Mentor Match Specialist then shared his thoughts about why people ask for mentors. “For children, some have really bad self esteem and want help. For older youth with disabilities, many are getting ready for college or preparing for a job and want a mentor with a disability to let them know they too can be successful.”

He then spoke of a match where he was personally inspired. “We had a

Juan and his mentee
Juan and his mentee

mentee who was 22 and a wheelchair user. During the interview he was extremely dynamic talking about an internship he would be doing at a recording studio. But he could also be depressed and didn’t really identify with having a disability. We matched him with a mentor who was 30 years old, also a wheelchair user, married, and had his own business. By meeting him, he could see it was possible to be where he wanted to go.”

Think about being a mentor

 PYD presently has 65 active matches, with an additional 50 youth on the waiting list; 80% are male who prefer a male mentor. Statistically, that means for every adult male on the mentor waiting list there are 8 youth looking to be matched specifically with a male mentor.

So if you or someone you know is interested in being a mentor, especially your male friends, contact Jeff at

After visiting this wonderful organization, I assure you it will be worth the call.