Saralyn Wasserman is a Human Rights advocate — and a mentor. Ms. Wasserman is very committed to helping those affected by abuse, sex trafficking and racism. Formerly, Saralyn Wasserman mentored with the BeFriend-A-Child Program in Fairfax, Virginia. In the following article, Ms. Wasserman describes the program and how to get involved.
Child abuse and neglect is a serious issue that continues to plague communities across the country. Social isolation, familial stress, and lack of support are all results of neglect. Luckily, there are several different programs that aim to help at-risk youth, including the BeFriend-A-Child program located in Fairfax County, Virginia, explains Saralyn Wasserman.
What Is the BeFriend-A-Child Program
Saralyn Wasserman explains that over 40 years ago, the BeFriend-A-Child volunteer mentoring program was established to support children in Fairfax County who have been – or are at-risk of becoming –abused or neglected. Saralyn Wasserman explains that the program provides “opportunities for companionship, guidance and support.” Children who are part of the BeFriend-A-Child program have often experienced some form of substance abuse, domestic violence, parental absence, or a combination of these.
BeFriend-A-Child works with passionate adult volunteers who are trained in working with abused children, with the goal of fostering an increase in self-esteem, improved social and life skills, good peer relationships, and to also encourage children’s’ individual interests, explains Saralyn Wasserman. The program also wants youth to learn how to make healthy life decisions and to achieve their full potential.
Many parents and guardians have shared testimonials with BeFriend-A-Child, stating that it has been life-changing and that they have seen a positive improvement in their child’s behavior and attitude.
How Does the Program Work?
Any child aged 5-12 can become involved with the BeFriend-A-Child program. The family must first contact Fairfax County’s Children, Youth, and Families (CYF) Division, which then refers the child and their family to BeFriend-A-Child.
From there, Saralyn Wasserman says that special care is taken to match the volunteer mentors with their mentees. The needs of the mentee, their history, and other aspects of their life are taken into consideration in order to make sure it’s a good fit.
How To Get Started with the BeFriend-A-Child Program
BeFriend-A-Child is always looking for volunteers to act as life-changing mentors. Saralyn Wasserman says that applicants must be at least 21 years old and need to agree to a two-year commitment. Within the two years, mentors are required to spend eight hours a month with their mentee, and to participate in at least one group outing every quarter (events happen every month).
Training as a mentor will be provided, explains Saralyn Wasserman. Training involves learning about the various aspects of child development so the mentors feel adequately prepared to take on their role. Male applicants and bilingual English-Spanish speakers are always highly sought-after by the program.
What Does Mentoring Involve?
The overall goal of acting as a mentor is to develop a positive relationship with the mentee, says Saralyn Wasserman. Studies have shown that a child with a positive role model is more likely to emulate that person’s actions and habits. In addition, a YouTube video from BeFriend-A-Child states that mentored youth are 55% more likely to enroll in college, 78% more likely to volunteer regularly, and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions.
BeFriend-A-Child encourages group hangouts, as well as one-on-one time with mentees.
More Information About Events with BeFriend-A-Child
BeFriend-A-Child understands the importance of engaging in activities with a child, which is why they have a busy monthly event schedule, explains Saralyn Wasserman. Sports, arts & crafts, music, educational programs, and community service projects are just a few of the things that mentors and mentees can do together.
A partial list for 2022 is below:
• January – Bowling
• February – African American History Museum Tour
• March – George Mason University Tour
• April – Egg Hunt
• May – Family Picnic
• June – Celebrate Fairfax
• July – Kings Dominion
• August – Water Mine Water Park
• September – American Ninja Warrior
• October – Woodworking
• November – Hike
• December – Story and Crafts with Santa
Most events and hangouts will require the mentor to pick up and drop off their mentee. The events usually take place in Fairfax County, but there are instances when something will happen in the greater DC metro area.
As another BeFriend-A-Child mentor says:
“I can say without reservation that volunteering with this program has forever changed and deepened my life. I will remain eternally grateful for having had this opportunity and feel proud to have been part of such as excellent program.”
To learn more about how to become a volunteer mentor with BeFriend-A-Child, check out their website and application here. Further questions can be directed to Program Coordinators Tiffani Peguese or Emily Swenson.