The mentoring program “Life skills laboratory – FRIENDS” – Module 1 is intended for young people with developmental difficulties and difficulties in psycho-social functioning, aged 18 to 30. This includes young people who are out of the education system, training and work (in NEET situation), that is, young people with completed or irregular schooling, in special classrooms, special schools, such as the Centre for Education, young people who are unemployed and most often have combined difficulties from the autism spectrum, reduced intellectual abilities, smaller motor disorders, diagnosed or undiagnosed ADHD, behavioral disorders, chronic diseases, such as epilepsy and/or other diseases.
The program was envisioned with the goal of preventing social exclusion of these marginalized groups and providing social support to them, with the purpose of developing their self-confidence and social skills, expanding their interests and social network, and also, allowing for them to spend their free time in a group of friendly people, enrolling in a set of structured and empowering activities.
The program is the basis for the inclusion of young people in other programs and work-occupation activities, because it includes the provision of social support of mentors and experts, as well as individual monitoring of the performance of each of them in certain activities.
Mentoring programs are recognized worldwide as the most effective model of social exclusion prevention, and our version is the only such program in the Republic of Croatia intended for this target group. It was financed by the Ministry of demography, family, youth and social politics from 2015 to 2018 and Primorsko-goranska County, which continues to finance it. The rest of the operating funds are allocated from personal sources, donations from citizens, membership fees and social entrepreneurship projects. Furthermore, the DIP has a good and long-standing cooperation with the University of Rijeka, whose students participate as volunteer mentors for young persons with disabilities, and thus make a great contribution to the development and preservation of this program.
The activities that are being implemented (or have been implemented) within this program are:
- Basic mentoring program – peer mentoring, “one on one”
- Happy cooking school – training to prepare simple meals for personal needs
- Let’s go swimming! – recreational and therapeutic swimming
- Education for mentors, reserve mentors and volunteers as well as others.
Some of the mentioned activities will be described below.
1. Basic mentoring program
“Basic mentoring program” is a social support program intended for youth with disabilities who have completed their regular education, and it includes students volunteers (mentors), their professors from the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities (Department of Pedagogy, Department of Cultural Studies and others), Faculty of Teacher Education or other faculties of the University of Rijeka, parents, experts and others.
The program is implemented “one on one” – 1 mentor (young person/peer/volunteer) provides social support to 1 mentored person (unemployed youth out of the education and work system). The mentoring program couple conducts activities from a plan of carefully structured free time, according to the work plan that is formed for each mentor and their mentee. In addition, there is a “skill and job database”, i.e. a description of competences and progress of each program participant, given that these young people have very different characteristics.
The goal of this program is to build and maintain, through friendship, trust and care, a more lasting relationship between an adult volunteer/mentor and a young person who was diagnosed with developmental difficulties or other difficulties in their childhood, which put this group in a disadvantaged position, having with fewer opportunities than their peers. By building a positive relationship between mentoring couples, we teach our youth basic life skills, but also work ethic and skills, by teaching them simple jobs that can enable them to work with mentors and/or work assistants in the future. The relationship between a young person and a volunteer/mentor, as well as cooperation and support from experts, becomes a protective factor in the socialization of a young person, and a series of specifically tailored activities help the young person develop social skills and new interests and habits, widen their social circle, improve their self-image and help them be more independent. In order to expand the social network of a young person and help them develop new interests, group activities are organized.
For the purpose of training mentors, a group of experts wrote the “Small DIP manual for mentors” which serves to provide volunteers/mentors with additional simple literature/manual for mentoring the priority groups we work with.
Who are the beneficiaries/participants of this program?
- Youth with difficulties (18-30 years old) out of the education system, training and work (NEET), with completed regular education in special classrooms or the Centre for Education, youth that are unemployed and have difficulties from the autism spectrum, reduced intellectual abilities, motor disorders, ADHD, behavioral disorders, epilepsy and other chronic diseases.
- Student volunteers, mostly from the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities and Faculty of Teacher Education from the University of Rijeka, to whom this volunteer work enables the acquisition of different valuable abilities from the study program through socially useful learning, professional practice or other forms of learning.
- 2. INDIRECT:
- Their families, neighbors, the professional public, the community they live in, policy makers.
In what way is this program implemented?
The young person and volunteer/mentor, during 12 months, spend 3 to 5 hours together once or twice a week in structured leisure activities that are well developed in individual plans.
Some of those activities are: trips to the cinema/theatre/museums, walks, art and creative workshops, recreational activities, performing everyday activities, swimming in the Kantrida pool (See “Lets go swimming!”) and others. In addition to the mentioned activities, it is possible to implement other activities that youth, their parents, volunteer mentors and other participants of the program are interested in.
Prior to the start of mentoring, volunteers are trained to work with children and youth with disabilities and are regularly supported through group support and supervision meetings as well as group activities. The training of mentors, reserve mentors and other volunteers lasts 20 hours, which consist out of 10 hours of studying theoretical aspects of the disabilities they will face, and 10 hours of practice with mentors that already have experience in the program. Support meetings are held in groups and individually and can be held in the form of personal consultations, phone and e-mail mentor advice.
Our experts assess the potential of the volunteers, pair up young people and volunteers, monitor the development of their relationship and educate and supervise the volunteers. In addition, they have the task of formulating a work plan with goals and a monitoring plan that monitors the efficiency of each individual participant and their volunteer. Furthermore, they coordinate the relations between the participants, their parents and volunteers and conduct program evaluations.
Mentoring program leaders:
- Petra Štimac, MA in Social Pedagogy
- Barbara Fistonić, MA in Social Pedagogy
- doc.dr.sc. Nataša Vlah, Social Pedagogy
2.Happy cooking school
“Happy cooking school” is an activity that was implemented from 2015 to 2018, in partnership with the National University – an institution for education and culture in Rijeka, with which we cooperate in other activities as well. “Happy cooking school” was co-financed by the Ministry of Demography, Family and Youth in the 3rd annual program.
The aim of the activity is to teach the participants basic cooking skills for their own needs and needs of their family.
In what way do we accomplish the goal?
The program and work plan include 50 hours of work in a cooking practicum at the National University, and it takes place in groups of 6 to 10 participants, or up to 5 mentoring pairs. Each Wednesday, a group of mentoring couples learns how to prepare simple meals from professor Mladenka, a top cooking professor who also teaches at the Opatija Hospitality School. In addition to learning how to make specific meals, they also learn how and where to get groceries, how to clean up after cooking, how to serve a ready meal and how to share with others. Everything that the participants prepare, they try themselves and eat at the end of the practicum.
What is prepared?
- Breakfast (coffee, tea, milk, cocoa, salty rolls)
- Egg dishes (scrambled eggs, omelets, fried eggs, ham with eggs, bacon with eggs)
- Soups (chicken, vegetable, stew)
- Baked and fried dishes
- Sweet dishes
What does our happy kitchen look like?
At the end of the practicum (25 hours, average 8 to 10 arrivals) a reception is prepared for everyone – family and friends, where participants showcase everything they have learned. In addition to socializing and enjoying delicious meals, diligent participants receive a certificate from the National University for completion of a cooking course, while mentors receive a certificate of participation in the activity.
3.“Lets go swimming!” for NEET
“Lets go swimming!” is a free activity of recreational and therapeutic swimming intended for the priority youth group which has been held since the school year 2014/2015 at the Kantrida pool and is still being implemented.
The general goal is to strengthen participants and the social community in order to successfully involve users in everyday life as well as to reduce community prejudices about children and youth with disabilities, especially those with difficulties in establishing social relationships and various psycho-motor difficulties. A satisfied young person more successfully copes with everyday life requirements, maintains health, and creates networks of new friends. All this is a protective factor for children and young people with difficulties, which prevents social exclusion.
- Organize free time for young people with difficulties – recreational and therapeutic activity of swimming in a pool
- Connect young people with difficulties from the mentoring program with their mentors/students
- Increase the level of visibility and sensitize the public to the needs of the target group in the Primorsko-goranska County and beyond
Who participates in the activity?
- a) Young people with difficulties – NEET (8-15 young people per year)
- Young unemployed people who have completed secondary education and who are currently outside the education and training system
- Young unemployed people from the mentoring program with their mentors/students
Their developmental difficulties are mainly in the area of social and psycho-motor abilities (pervasive disorders, ADHD).
- b) Students/volunteers
- Students of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities and Faculty of Teacher Education who perform their professional practice or obligations within individual courses (“service learning”) in the form of mentoring, within which swimming is one of the activities in the work plan of the student mentor.
How is this goal accomplished?
The activity is held once or twice a week at the Kantrida pool, and young people with disabilities participate together with their mentor, accompanied by other volunteers or independently. Groups in which users come to the activity are usually small (up to 10 participants) and are carefully formed depending on the type of disability the young people have.
The activity is carried out with methods and techniques of water therapy and free play in the water, which encourages high motivation in participants, improves their motor skills, reduces anxiety and allows them to overcome difficulties more easily. Additionally, the activity enables young people to socialize with their peers.
We like saying that participation in this program is a prerequisite for participation in work-occupation activities, or the Ready, steady, work! program.
Why? The aim of this program is acquiring competences from everyday life, from independent use of public transport to the independent preparation of meals. Only by continuous repetition of everyday socialization patterns do we achieve the self-confidence and independence of the participants and “open” the way for further progress and mastering work processes and tasks, as well as different types of work, in accordance with the capabilities of each participant. Above everything else, we consider social support to be an extremely important factor in developing the potential of each of our DIP members, no matter what difficulties they face during their lives.