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ConnectVa Spotlight: Betsy Bilharz, Virginia Mentoring Partnership

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Betsy Bilharz and I am part of the Program Services Team for Virginia Mentoring Partnership, a state-wide nonprofit organization that supports mentors and mentoring programs by providing training, consulting, and capacity-building services to enhance the quality of mentoring programming and relationships. Having received my bachelor’s degree in economics and data analysis from Hamilton College and, more recently, a master’s degree in public administration, program and policy analysis from VCU, I have always been interested in working with volunteer and community organizations to apply an analytical and research-based lens to nonprofit practices. I was drawn to VMP’s work promoting evidence-based quality standards to maximize impact in the mentoring field.

What is the focus of your work, the need you are addressing?

VMP’s work promotes effective youth mentoring in Virginia. Research suggests that young people who have dedicated, consistent adults in their lives are less likely to drop out of school or engage in risky behaviors, and are more likely to go to college, enter the workforce, and have strong relationships with peers and parents. Our work at VMP supports sustainable and high quality programming and relationships to ensure more young people in Virginia have access to effective mentors and mentoring programs.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

My relationships with caring, trusted adults in critical periods of my development allowed me to explore and achieve more than I ever thought possible. Recognizing the power of mentoring on a daily basis reinforces my excitement to be a mentor myself. This year, I am volunteering with the Visual Arts Center Make Space Mentoring Program, and I’m looking forward to continuing to get to know my “little sister!” On a personal level, we can universally relate to the impact of strong relationships, and I am grateful to work for an organization that amplifies the power of mentoring programs to transform lives and strengthen communities.

What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?

Research from MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership indicates that 1 in 3 young people cannot identify an adult role model in their lives; In Virginia, this equates to 622,000 children lacking this critical guidance and support. Currently, thousands of young people across Virginia are on waiting lists to be matched with mentors. VMP leads the mentoring movement in Virginia to address this “mentoring gap” by supporting strong programs and raising collective awareness about the impact of mentoring with community stakeholders, public officials, and potential volunteers.

What’s one misconception the public has about your organization OR what would someone be surprised to know about your organization?

Our position as a backbone organization supporting mentoring programs can sometimes lead to the misconception that we work directly with youth. Our mission benefits youth indirectly by ensuring that there are more high quality, sustainable mentoring programs available in communities across Virginia for young people to access. It is incredibly rewarding to hear from programs that our support empowered them to launch a high-quality, well-structured mentoring initiative for young people that otherwise may not have been offered.

Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?

VMP is excited to mark our 25th anniversary in 2018. Throughout our anniversary year, we will be celebrating stories of successful program partners, inspiring matches, and champions of mentoring throughout VMP’s history, while also continuing to look forward and engage potential mentors, program partners, and community stakeholders. January kicks off National Mentoring Month – a strategic burst of public awareness to recognize and promote the importance and benefits of mentoring – and we look forward to continuing this momentum throughout the year.

Are you and/or your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

As a backbone organization, VMP has built collaborative partnerships with more than 150 mentoring programs across the state, and we work directly with our program partners to identify needs and trends in the field, which inform our services. Recently, we have been grateful to partner with pro bono teams at Capital One and Altria CreateAThon to refresh our communications materials, messaging, and marketing and awareness strategies for the upcoming year and beyond. Lastly, VMP is the only Virginia affiliate of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, a partnership that allows us to access the latest research, tools, advocacy efforts for the field, and more.

How are you leveraging ConnectVA/The Community Foundation to achieve your mission?

VMP often leverages the ConnectVA community to post events, upcoming trainings, and service opportunities for our AmeriCorps VISTA program, and I read the daily email blasts to stay updated on the latest events in the Richmond community. In addition, we are grateful to have received financial support from the Community Foundation in the past to support VMP’s work training mentors and enhancing the quality of mentoring programs. Finally, I am excited to participate in this year’s 2017-2018 cohort of the Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Program (ENLP) and look forward to engaging with valuable resources, experienced faculty and coaches, and my peers to support my continued professional growth.

Anything else you would like to share?

If you are interested in becoming a mentor, I would encourage you to visit our website at www.vamentoring.org to learn more about volunteering with one of our partner programs. In just an hour a week, you can have a significant impact on a young person in your community.

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