The Peer Project Helps Youth Make Better Choices

The Peer Project fosters life-long friendships between "Mentor Matches," creating opportunities for growth for both the mentee and the mentor.

At The Peer Project | Youth Assisting Youth (TPP), harnessing the power of friendships goes a long way.

Whether it’s the clothes you wear, the TV shows you watch, the sports you play or the books you read, when you’re young, your friends play an important role in your life and the choices you make. The Peer Project, a Toronto-based non-profit organization, provides peer mentoring for newcomer and at-risk youth, to create lasting friendships that lead to healthier lifestyle choices.

To provide youth with a mentor they can look up to, The Peer Project matches newcomer and at-risk children and teenagers, ages 6-15, with volunteer youth mentors, ages 16-29, in a one-on-one peer mentoring relationship. Mentors spend an average of 3 hours per week with their mentee, for a minimum of 1 year, providing guidance, specialized support and a positive role model. According to Ed Carlson, The Peer Project’s director of development, the organization addresses the specific needs of youth who are coping with complex issues.

“Every youth and every child should have a mentor, regardless of their socio-economic status, cultural background and community. Everyone needs that support at that time in their life,” says Carlson, who has been working for The Peer Project for 8 years.

The Peer Project, which was founded in 1976, aims to build strong relationships between volunteer mentors and their mentees by providing opportunities that increase the skills and confidence of both groups. Many children that join The Peer Project are newcomers or children that come from low-income communities, single-parent families, or have experienced mental health issues and learning disabilities.

“The issues we address are whatever the specific issue that the youth client is dealing with in the moment. It allows you to provide specialized, tailored support and guidance,” says Carlson. “We want to help kids that need help, and we want to help youth who want to help others.”

Whether a child needs to become more physically active, work on his confidence or deal with a learning disability, The Peer Project provides support for youth from all walks of life.

Carlson says several youth in Toronto often lack resources and support from their friends and family to help them overcome diverse barriers and adversities. In order to provide a safe, effective and accessible mentorship program, The Peer Project uniquely recruits, assesses and matches youth based on various factors like gender, location, background, special needs and interests. Youth matched with a mentor must be professionally referred, and the organization takes time to ensure that that mentees are matched with a committed, responsible and consistent mentor.

“We do in-home assessments for every client and every volunteer,” says Carlson. “It’s a very in-depth process. The kids we are dealing with are already struggling. They need a consistent adult, who’s there and available to listen and provide that support. We are looking for responsible, dedicated youth that want to make a difference.”

Ed Carlson is a part of the organization of various events hosted by The Peer Project for mentors and mentees.
Ed Carlson is a part of the organization of various events hosted by The Peer Project for mentors and mentees. Photo by The Peer Project. 

 

At TPP, mentors work to ensure that their mentees are gaining skills, confidence and valuable life experience, while having a good time. Mentor Matches (a mentor and mentee) often go to movie screenings, attend sporting or theatre events, and participate in arts programs, through The Peer Project’s Group Mentoring Program. The program also includes events such as a three-day Summer Leadership Camp, Annual Family Picnic and holiday parties and movie nights. Through these structured activities, TPP hopes to foster life-long friendships and allow mentees to build resiliency, confidence and develop skills that they may have otherwise lacked. Likewise, mentors are given a chance to be role models, friends and develop job and career related skills, confidence, empathy and outstanding leadership abilities. The program becomes life-changing for both the mentor and mentee.

“What we’re doing is adding a consistent, caring person – in this case an older youth mentor – to the life of a kid who doesn’t have that support. When you give kids support, resources and opportunities, they develop the resiliency that they need to cope and deal with all the stuff that life’s throwing at them. They have a chance to succeed in the face of adversity.” says Carlson.

Several youth who have been through The Peer Project’s mentoring program have had life-changing and empowering experiences through their involvement. The vast majority of their relationships go well beyond the minimum one year commitment, developing into life-long friendships.

Charlie Lo, a youth who joined the The Peer Project when he was 9-years-old, has kept in touch with his mentor for over 13 years. Today, Charlie is a mentor himself, acting as a role model, guide and friend to his own mentee, showing that connections and the power of friendship is central to the success and effectiveness of The Peer Project’s mentoring program.

Lo says as a child, he didn’t have many experiences but his mentor and friend, Philippe allowed him to experience his youth differently and try new things; an experience he wishes to share with his own mentee and the community.

The Peer Project fosters life-long friendships between "Mentor Matches" through unique activities like summer camps, picnics and holiday parties.
The Peer Project fosters life-long friendships between “Mentor Matches” through unique activities like summer camps, picnics and holiday parties. Photo by The Peer Project. 

“Everyone there [The Peer Project] is a good person and they all have the same goals, to make some sort of difference in another person’s life,” said Lo. “Hopefully I can pass on the same knowledge and experiences to Jeffrey [Charlie’s mentee] and one day that will inspire him to become a mentor himself.”

When matching youth with mentors, The Peer Project only matches female mentees with female mentors and male mentees with male mentors – a policy that ensures the safety and effectiveness of the mentoring relationship. However, the organization faces a systemic shortage of male volunteer mentors, leaving over 250 male youth on the waitlist for a mentor..

Carlson says that over 70 per cent of the interested volunteers are female, while over 70 per cent of the youth in need of a mentor are male. To address this shortage of male volunteers, The Peer Project is working with various corporations and community organizations to recruit male volunteers.

This year is The Peer Project’s 40th anniversary, and the agency is still growing and will continue to support and encourage youth to succeed in school, stay out of trouble and give back to their community.

“One of our organizational visions is that mentoring allows and gives youth the opportunity to reach their full potential,” said Carlson. “Everybody needs support and I’m constantly amazed when I see how much they’ve [youth] grown and changed. The program is a life-changing experience that sets youth on the positive path to success.”

KNOWHOW TO SUPPORT THE PEER PROJECT

  • Share this article on Facebook and Twitter!
  • If you’re a youth between the ages of 16 and 29 and looking for ways to give back to the community, why not explore a volunteer mentor position at The Peer Project.
  • Invest in the future of newcomer and at-risk children and teens by donating to The Peer Project
  • For more information, please contact Ed Carlson, Director of Development at ecarlson@yay.org or 416-932-1919 x222
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