United Way of Northwest Vermont
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Youth Outreach and Mentor Coordinator Paul Chapman shares his thoughts for National Volunteer Week

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The Messenger is doing a series of stories on volunteers who have served with United Way of Northwest Vermont in honor of National Volunteer Week.

Paul Chapman is a Youth Outreach and Mentor Coordinator trying to recruit volunteers for Franklin County Caring Communities mentor program. He has also been a mentor of the program in the past. 

Mentors work to prevent and reduce substance abuse among youth and young adults in Franklin County. United Way gave funding to FCCC through the Northwest Vermont Prevention Network.

Q: Why did you decide to volunteer with this group?

A:  As someone who had the good fortune of being mentored during my youth, I decided to pay it forward by becoming a volunteer mentor at Franklin County Caring Communities. Seeing the dedication of the staff and how much they care about the community and its young people inspired me to get involved.

Q: What are some of the challenges you have overcome as a volunteer and how have they impacted you?

A:  As a volunteer mentor, I faced some challenges, such as resisting the urge to jump in and solve problems for my mentee. Instead, I had to learn to provide support and guidance while allowing my mentee to make their own decisions and mistakes. 

But with time, I learned to help them figure out what was most important to them, and help them decide how they wanted to respond to challenges.  I did not have all the answers and that was okay, but I could always offer my support and perspective.

Q: What lessons have you learned or benefits have you discovered from being a volunteer?

A:  Despite the challenges, being a mentor was an incredibly rewarding experience for me. My mentee and I learned a lot from each other, and we often surprised each other with our unique perspectives. Being a mentor also helped me realize that I didn’t always have to be perfect or cool – it was enough to be myself and give from my heart. We all come with challenges and gifts to offer others.  

Being a volunteer reminded me of two things I was told as a young college student on a Breakaway volunteer trip nearly 30 years ago: 1) As a volunteer you always receive as much as you give; it is such a gift when someone decides to be vulnerable with you and allow you to enter their world and help them. 2) Never assume you know what someone else needs; without this understanding you can make things worse or be ineffective.  It’s better to be humble and work hard to understand the perspective and experience of the one you are helping. My experiences as a mentor reinforced these ideas for me.

Q: How has being a volunteer shaped your life? Is there anything you do or think about differently?

A:  Being a volunteer mentor at Franklin County Caring Communities has given me a sense of purpose and fulfillment. I now have a greater appreciation for the power of mentoring and support. It’s helped me to think differently about how I can make a positive impact in my community, both personally and professionally.  I also realize that real community change only happens when others get involved.  It does not change itself.  I can’t make these changes alone, but I can be a part of the work.