Staff Q&A: Jewish Youth Mentoring Program Manager Becky Lyle Sulkin

Jewish Youth Mentoring Program

How long have you worked at JFCS?

I have worked at JFCS for five-and-a-half years. I started as a Targeted Case Manager in Mental Health Support Services in October 2015, and became the Program Manager of the Jewish Youth Mentoring Program (formerly Jewish Big Brother/Big Sister) in May 2018.

Tell us about the Jewish Youth Mentoring Program and your role working with volunteers.

The Jewish Youth Mentoring Program is a community-based mentoring program for Jewish youth that is designed to promote positive social-emotional-spiritual development and increase engagement in the Jewish community. Volunteer mentors have the opportunity to develop special one-to-one, consistent relationships with youth by sharing interests, hobbies and activities. These relationships facilitate youth development by providing positive role modeling, access to Jewish holidays and events, and the chance to have some fun with a friend.

I coordinate all aspects of the volunteer (and youth) experience for this program. Recruitment, screening, training, matching, coaching, case management—I do it all! I feel uniquely qualified to provide this type of program management and support, given my experience as a youth worker and my training in clinical social work.

What is/are your favorite part(s) about your job and working with your volunteers?

I love that I get to build relationships and work personally with everyone in our program, because that’s what our program is all about: relationships! Research has shown that many Jewish youth lack Jewish role models outside of their immediate families. Our mentors fill this void, equipping mentees with the necessary tools and support to develop their own Jewish identities. Mentors bond with youth over their shared Jewish identity and foster pride in this identity by serving as advisers, cheerleaders, and most importantly, friends.

My favorite part, though, is watching these friendships blossom. From nervous excitement in the beginning; to the pride and accomplishment of watching mentees grow and thrive; to the comfort and confidence of a well-established match; and finally, to the deep appreciation and genuine friendship between our mentors and mentees that often endures long after the formal “match” ends. The stories are truly amazing.

What are some things you have heard from mentors about their volunteer experience with JFCS?

Mentors describe their experience as “tremendously fulfilling” and a privilege. Even those who came in looking for a volunteer opportunity working with children are surprised by how much they enjoy the experience. They love spending time with their mentees and watching them grow as individuals. Many appreciate the opportunity to spread the values and traditions of Judaism l’dor v’dor – from generation to generation.

Mentors often reflect on how the experience helps them grows as leaders and deepens their roots in the Jewish community. These volunteers and their mentees really become lifelong friends, or even extended family. One mentor said, “The role [my mentee] has played in my life and now my children’s lives is priceless.” Another kvells: “Although my little now lives in Seattle, we still keep in touch and are close friends. I am now a grand big brother to five grand-littles.” It is a truly rewarding role.

What are some things you have heard from mentees about their involvement in the program?

The younger mentees just love spending time with their mentors and have a blast. One 7-year-old told her mom that she doesn’t care where she goes with her mentor because she always has fun. After one match went sledding recently, mom pulled the mentor aside to tell him that she hadn’t seen a smile that big on her son’s face in a long, long time. Even parents of current participants recognize that their children have created lifelong bonds with their mentors.

The positive impact extends far beyond the youth participants, reaching the whole family. It is so heartwarming to the parents to see another adult who genuinely cares about their child and actively promotes their growth and well-being. They also appreciate that participation in the program affords their children opportunities and experience that they might not otherwise have.

An alumna of our program said it best in a recent email: “Despite our large age difference, [my mentor] and I were paired based on our mutual interests – mostly of ice cream and art, if I’m remembering correctly. I’m pleased to say that she and I have remained close these 35 years – she was my matron-of-honor at my wedding in Australia in 2010, and I’ve even followed in her footsteps by becoming a professional fine art photographer. [My mentor] truly has been one of the main positive influences in my life – a source of strength and friendship for me, a moral sounding board, and of course her enormous cultural influence – all of which have shaped my life’s direction and outlook.”

Anything else you want to add?

You don’t have to have any special skills, training, or qualifications to be a mentor—come as you are! We provide training, resources, and ongoing support for mentors, mentees, and matches. We help keep things fun and exciting by regularly offering donated tickets to sporting events, performances, museum exhibits, and other events and activities at no cost to participants or mentors. We are also able to subsidize costs of some outings or match enrichment activities (examples include: theater tickets, SkyZone, State Fair admission, and enrollment in a sushi-making class for a match).

Being a mentor is not complicated or especially time consuming; however, it does involve a consistent commitment that will result in a positive impact for youth in our community. It’s not about finding time for a mentee; it’s about inviting a mentee into the life you are already living. Sometimes matches celebrate Jewish holidays together, or attend cultural events at the local JCCs. More commonly, though, they can be found visiting libraries or bookstores; doing arts and crafts; baking; exploring local parks; playing sports; going to museums; playing board games; or attending performances or sporting events. These activities are tailored to individual interests and abilities, and tend to evolve as the mentoring relationship develops. Trust me: there’s a mentee out there for you!

We are always accepting applications from potential mentors! We are especially in need of mentors for boys (including our Featured Mentee, Jonah). You can fill out our Mentor Application online, and find more information about our program on the JFCS website.