Youth Mentoring Program: Kids have a ball



There's a new initiative in Berkshire County to help more kids have a ball with growing up.

On Saturday, Child Care of the Berkshires will host its first major event to support its new Youth Mentoring Program -- a Bowl-A-Thon at Mt. Greylock Bowl. The event will also serve as a kick-off for its mentorships between local children and community volunteers.

The family-friendly event was once a signature celebration and fundraiser for the Berkshire County chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of America.

The Berkshire chapter dissolved its affiliation with the national BBBS program on Dec. 31, 2011, due to lack of financial support. The program had served youths for the past 42 years.

Back in September, Child Care of the Berkshires announced it would be partnering with the national AmeriCorps program and other local nonprofit organizations like Northern Berkshire United Way to form an independent youth mentoring program, starting with northern Berkshire County.

The agency garnered startup funding from the Mass Mentoring Partnerships and its State Mentoring Matching Grant program, the Highland Street Corps of Boston and Northern Berkshire United Way to support the new initiative.

"We're trying to recreate the village that's been lost," said Rachelle Smith, referring to the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. Smith is a licensed social worker, educator and parent who is the mentoring program's director.

She is coordinating pilot mentoring sites at Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School and Brayton Elementary School with the assistance of AmeriCorps program ambassador Alex Lenski.

He is a recent graduate of the English and education programs at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and serves as project coordinator for the Youth Mentoring Program. Together, they plan to grow the program in North County and eventually throughout the Berkshires.

"It's important that we let people know this event is about bringing the community together around mentoring, and what we're trying to revitalize for the area," said Lenski, referring to Saturday's Bowl-A-Thon.

In its first year of operation, the program hopes to make 20 to 25 mentorship matches. Mentors will be volunteers from the community who will to work with children ages 8 to 14 years old for one to two hours a week in a school or community center-based setting. Male mentors are a particular need as role models for boys.

Training will be provided for all mentors and students will be matched with mentors based on interests. Mentors should be able to make at least a year long commitment.

"We're taking a very child-centered approach," said Smith, who said the program is looking to reach out to "middle children" who aren't at extreme risk, but rather could use some extra support.

"By just being there, a mentor can change someone's life and even change themselves in the process," Lenski said.

If you go ...

What: Bowl-A-Thon to benefit the Youth Mentoring Program, a new initiative of Child Care of the Berkshires Inc.

When: Saturday from 1 to 7 p.m.

Where: Mt. Greylock Bowl, 41 Roberts Drive, North Adams

Details: Volunteers can sponsor, form a team or make a donation to help the Youth Mentoring Program reach its $12,000 goal. Funds will be used to support the new mentoring program and provide fun activities for youth and their mentors in northern Berkshire County.

Cost: $10 for students. Adults are $100 per team or $25 per person. Cost includes shoe rental and lane time. There will also be a raffle for prizes.

For more information, call Rachelle Smith at (413) 663-6593, ext. 39, or Alex Lenski at (413) 663-6593, ext. 34, or visit


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