At a recent "Women of Accomplishment" dinner, associate participants of Project Hope, a woman-to-woman mentoring program based in Kingston, were celebrated for what they'd achieved this past year—such as learning to drive and getting a license, earning a GED or AA degree, finishing cosmetology training or completing work on an LPN degree, and for staying the courses they set for themselves when they were each paired up with another woman who would act as their personal mentor in the ensuing 12 months. When each mentor-associate pair took the stage to acknowledge the work they'd done together, it was clear that warm relationships had been created between these women, and that the rewards of participating in the program were enjoyed by all.
An offshoot of Hope's Fund, Project Hope is coordinated by Judith Bromley, who also teaches in the nursing program at SUNY Ulster. A psychiatric nurse, Bromley uses her background in all aspects of the project, to assess potential mentors and match them with appropriate associates (she uses the DISC profile in which behavioral styles are grouped in the four categories of dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness), to offer resources, in terms of providing information in an effective manner, and to model communication skills with people going through sensitive life changes and even traumatic situations.
Project Hope was launched four years ago when the leadership council of Hope's Fund recognized the reality of certain gaps in women's ongoing acquisition of life skills. The program is open to any adult woman who wants to move forward in life, regardless of age or economic status. Currently, 18 mentor-associate pairs are connecting once a week, either by phone, e-mail, or in person, to promote the stated goals of the woman desirous of helpful coaching. At monthly meetings with mentors and biannual check-ins with associates, Bromley teaches women on both sides of the table to listen to the other's needs, to clearly define expectations and goals, and to extend and accept support in a professional manner. She calls her job "the most fabulous job you could have."
How do you match associates with mentors?
Bromley: I have the same application for both. We emphasize that this is a professional relationship, and the questions are related to that—questions about personal values, because values shape and color where you want to go, what you want to do. We talk about "What's the best part of you, what's the thing you want to change in yourself?" The commitment is an hour a week for a year—we want to make it doable. That's a very conservative amount of time to help someone move forward. Our hope is to have the associates start networking with each other. We do a first Thursday lecture series, based on what associates want to hear about—women's health, finance, medical insurance, family care.
Can you describe some of the successes of the mentoring program, both great and small?
Bromley: A number of people have returned to college in BA and AA programs, and one is heading into a master's program. Some people have found employment when they were unable to do so before. What we talk about is the idea of gaining life skills, and the two important pieces of that are: learning how to think in a process-oriented fashion and learning how to communicate effectively. A number of people who are naturally creative have learned how to put their creative patterns into something that's supporting them, business-wise.
Has Project Hope experienced any failures?
Bromley: Our philosophy is a different sense than "success or failure." Some people have left prematurely, but everybody should walk away from this with a sense of success. We get people back together at the six-month point to review what they've accomplished and renew their contract with each other. Rather than have someone disappear or gradually remove themselves, we have people come and sit down with me and their mentor, and review what they've done. Some have continued on with their mentors beyond the year. Almost 25 percent of my mentors have come back to take another person on.
What do mentors get out of doing this work?
Bromley: I think they get a real sense of satisfaction, the outcome of a rich professional relationship. Their talents are being used in a different way than what they're ordinarily used for. The process of helping another woman to grow and become strong, it's very enriching. It's incredibly rewarding to watch someone grow. Adult growth is different than the trajectory of a child or adolescent's growth. In school, there's a formal program with a series of goals. As an adult, unless you have another way to be a part of that process, you just kind of get stuck. You may have no inspiration, and sometimes there are no evident places to get your skills.
What does Project Hope need now to continue to expand on and fulfill its mission?
Bromley: My youngest current associate is 20, and the oldest is 71. We need more mentors. I always end up with more associates than mentor volunteers—who can be women from any walk of life. And we need people to "adopt" us. We do events to bring people together, but we don't have any money for food, decorations. We also want to create a network to keep people in touch; in other words, we need a website. We teach our associates about budgeting, and we'd like to set up a no-interest loan program for those who have moved on. Sometimes they've moved forward, but they're still going to come up against things they can't negotiate—a car breaks down, for example. A no-interest loan would be a step up for them.
An orientation to mentoring for Project Hope will take place in June. Call (845) 338-2980 or visit Hopesfund.org/programs/project-hope for more information.