If you are part of a group working to improve the social good of your community — or if you have skills or experience that could help such a group grow and expand — the Social Mentor Network wants to hear from you.

The network is a joint project between the United Church’s EDGE Network and The Presbyterian Church in Canada. Since launching in June 2016, it now includes over 80 mentees, representing groups conducting some sort of social initiative.

Alexandra Belaskie, the network’s Community Manager, said a mentee can be any group working for the betterment of the community.  These include art hubs, community centres, AIDS awareness organizations, or those working to promote the establishment of more affordable housing, for example.

In Toronto, the network supports ARISE Ministry. This group helps those involved in the sex trade to reclaim hope in their lives, through a ministry of outreach, case management and pastoral care. In Brampton, the Journey Neighbourhood Centre provides programming and support for kids, youth, and adults . Bramalea United Church is one of the partners that support the centre.

Another novel initiative being supported by the network is Green Cup, which urges companies to place advertisements on compostable, hot beverage cups. These cups are then given to high schools, event organizers, conventions, and others as an alternative to non-recyclable disposable cups, with the goal of cutting down the number of cups heading to the landfill.

A group of children and adult volunteers stand in front of a large colourful mural, as they participate in youth programming for March Break.
During March Break, the Journey Neighbourhood Centre cancels most of its regular programming and runs several days of day programming for the community youth.
Kevin Birmingham
Every group that applies for and receives an Embracing the Spirit grant will be automatically invited to be a mentee in the network.

“Our mentees are a really diverse,” said Belaskie. “But they all have a social bottom line.”

Aiding the mentees in the network are mentors. These people, who usually have business experience, can help mentees in areas such as strategic planning, marketing, project management, finance, fundraising or accounting.

“When you are on a shoestring budget, it is hard to hire an external pair of eyes to help you with such tasks as budgeting or marketing,” said Belaskie. “But having an external pair of eyes is incredibly beneficial for anyone.”

She is quick to add, however, that mentors are not service providers. “They are not expected to do the work, but they instead provide helpful narratives of their own experiences to help guide mentee, or they direct them to the resources they need.”

Retired professionals who want to give back to the community are ideal mentor candidates, though anyone with at least two years’ experience in a professional setting is welcome to apply. Neither mentors nor mentees have to belong to the United or Presbyterian Churches.

“From our perspective, any sort of action you are doing that helps improve a community is God’s work, whether or not you want to look at it that way,” says Belaskie.

Organizations affiliated with either church, however, do not have to pay the $30 monthly membership fee charged to other mentees.

Belaskie personally interviews everyone interested in joining the network, and helps match mentees with the appropriate mentor. She tries to set up matches between those in the same region of the country, but that doesn’t always work. “The right mentor might be in Toronto, for a mentee who is in Winnipeg”

She urges mentees and mentors to either meet in person, or through Skype. “There’s more value when there is face-to-face interaction,” she said. “It leads to more organic conversations”

Mentees and mentors are asked to meet at least for two hours every month, for at least six months. “Two hours is not a long time,” said Belaskie. “When both sides come in prepared, it really helps.”

By fostering the growth of social initiatives within the church and surrounding communities, Belaskie explained that the broader church also benefits.

“In social ministries, there is a lot of passion,” she said. “Group members are passionate about what they want to do, but sometimes they need help to achieve those goals. That is where the Social Mentor Network comes in.”

More mentors are being actively sought out by the network, to meet the demands of the growing base of mentees. If you can be a mentor, or if you are part of a group that is interested in being a mentee, email Belaskie at socialmentornetwork [at] gmail.com.

—Paul Russell is Communications Coordinator with the Office of the Moderator and General Secretary.

New and diverse approaches to ministry are constantly cropping up across The United Church of Canada, and Embracing the Spirit wants to hear about them. If you are involved with a group that has found an innovative way to approach church, let us know, by filling in the Tell Us Your Story form, found at the bottom of the Spur Innovation page.