Home Lifestyle All About TRUE Mentors: A One-on-One Mentoring Program in Hoboken

All About TRUE Mentors: A One-on-One Mentoring Program in Hoboken

by Jordan and Joelle Hernandez
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Unearthing the excellence in the children of Hoboken through relationships — this is the mission of TRUE Mentors, Hoboken’s only nonprofit offering a one-to-one mentoring program matching children ages seven through 17 with adult mentors in the same community. TRUE stands for True Relationships Unearth Excellence and the importance of strong connections is what this organization embodies. We had a chance to talk with Katharine Samberg-Lawrence, executive director of TRUE Mentors, to learn more about the past, present, and future of TRUE Mentors along with information on how to get involved as a mentor in the future.

Here’s what you need to know about TRUE Mentors.

true mentors hoboken

{Photo credit: @true_mentors}

The History of TRUE Mentors

TRUE Mentors began in January 2011 with around one dozen students through 2013. Attendance then grew to 28 students by 2014 and, currently, TRUE Mentors serves over 50 students annually. Samberg-Lawrence was welcomed to TRUE Mentors in August 2019 as a continuation of her decade-long career in nonprofit work. 

She informed us of why a community like Hudson County needs the support provided by TRUE Mentors, saying “It’s unusual that a community with so many families in need has so little funding for social programs. I can remember working in Burlington, VT around 2010, and despite a population roughly 1/16th the size of Hudson County’s, they had at least four youth development centers – multi-building centers – whereas all of Hudson County has a handful. I don’t know how to explain that discrepancy except I don’t think people have ever compared their youth services to other places. Financing educational, fun social programs that keep youth off the streets is critical in our city because more than 90% of TRUE Mentors families live at or below the low-income threshold.”

The Need for Such Programming

To shine a light on the need for programs such as TRUE Mentors in Hudson County, the Nonprofit Fiscal Management LLC recently conducted a study to show the lack of resources in the area. Hudson County has strong similarities in terms of population to Bronx, NY. However, this study revealed that the Bronx spends nearly $900 on social programming per youth annually compared to just $27 per youth spent on similar programming in Hudson County

Samberg-Lawrence says that this study could be a catalyst for national change — starting with TRUE Mentors. “Roughly 13% of the population is below the age of 18 in this country, and 40% of them are at or below the poverty level. That means 40% of the youth in the country are already at-risk just accounting for poverty, not for trauma, mental health, drug use, sexual activity, or any of the other major risk factors, all of which research has shown to have a detrimental impact on a child’s ability to transition into a successful, independent adult,” she said. “Mentoring, healthy activities, and opportunities to feel empowered and build confidence are exactly what at-risk youth need, and the services we provide to them are free of charge.”

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The Success of the Organization

true mentors hoboken non profit

{Photo credit: @true_mentors}

As a new member of the TRUE Mentors team, Samberg-Lawrence credits the success of the organization to those who have come before her and is grateful for the support she currently receives. “I would love to take credit for our doubled attendance, but I do believe a large portion of that was a legacy left to me. Bliss Lecea, our previous program coordinator, lined up a great calendar of activities for Enrichment Clubs, which serves second through eighth-graders, and the program grew tremendously under her as a result. Our move from the Boys and Girls Club to the Jubilee Center also makes us more accessible to a larger population of kids. Our new program coordinator, Maria Lara, who’s a native of Hoboken, is already working on an expanded calendar starting in 2020,” she said.

She went on to say, “Bliss Lecea, Veronica Manning, and the TRUE Mentors board have been [a] miraculous help. Bliss’ navigation of our programs set me up ahead of the game, and Veronica’s knowledge of not just youth work, but non-profit management and community connections is nearing a Yoda-like level. Recently, Veronica introduced me to Sandra Smith, who also blew me away.”

In addition to the great support given by the community, Samberg-Lawrence states that she was drawn to the role mainly because of the unique programming offered to the students. TRUE Mentors has created its programs directly out of needs found in the community. “Whether that’s exposing second through eighth-graders to engaging new activities or helping local teens get internships — their purpose and the population they wanted to serve was clear, and the level of community engagement is really astounding.”

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Helping TRUE Mentors

TRUE Mentors is mostly run by volunteers. With just two full-time staff members, the support and level of commitment given by volunteers is an absolute necessity to run the organization. 

Volunteers are needed to serve as mentors, develop + teach Enrichment Club programs, offer internship opportunities, and serve on the Business Development Team. Volunteers must live in Hoboken or the surrounding area and must be willing to make a year-long commitment to truly develop relationships with the students. 

If a time-commitment is not possible, monetary donations are always welcome and help to keep programs running. Donations help volunteers to develop and produce more activities and allow them to spend more quality time with their mentees. Samberg-Lawrence knows the great impact mentors have on mentees and she is committed to ensuring that the volunteers are properly trained and informed so that they can best serve.

“I want to build in a better understanding of the barriers facing the populations we service so our volunteers can be fully supported and prepared to work with them. I also want to engage more people directly from the communities we are serving to gain volunteers and support a cultural bridge,” she said. “We’ve already seen youth attendance at our Enrichment Clubs approximately double this school year, demonstrating the difference TRUE Mentors can make.”

Currently, TRUE Mentors has moved all of its programmings to be virtual, with all of the proceeds from its #GivingTuesdayNow campaign going towards essential activities like tutoring children who are adjusting to online learning, printing and delivering schoolwork to participants, arranging leased laptop pick-ups/deliveries, and coordinating donations like food pantry items.

To learn more about how to get involved with TRUE Mentors or to read more about their story, click here.  To make a donation, click here.

Did you know about TRUE Mentors? Let us know in the comments!


Did you know: We started a podcast about all things news and lifestyle in Hoboken + Jersey City! Listen to the latest episode of Tea on the Hudson here and subscribe.

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