The mission of Mentor Iowa is to provide trained volunteer mentors to abused, neglected, and delinquent children who are under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court. We will do this by working in partnership with the children, their families and the community.
History of Mentor Iowa
Mentor Iowa was founded in 1974 by Polk County Juvenile Court Judge Donald Tidrick, interested court personnel and concerned citizens. Judge Tidrick had attended a seminar in Royal Oak, Michigan on a program called Volunteers in Probation (VIP). The program addressed the issue of the increasing numbers of juveniles in the court system. With similar situations in Polk County, Judge Tidrick and his committee created a non-profit organization to help meet the needs of Children in Need of Assistance (CINA). The new organization was also called “Volunteers in Probation”. The first employee, Lily Hill, worked as the Volunteer Coordinator until she moved out-of-state in 1978. During Lily’s tenure, VIP provided volunteers to mentor children, facilitate group activities, and serve as emergency foster care providers.
The second person to head VIP was Rosemary Graff, a Juvenile Court Officer, appointed by Bert Aunan, Chief Juvenile Court Officer. Ms. Graff continued the mentor program and group activities. She also started a clothing closet, supervised visitations, and curfews. In February 1989 the VIP Board voted to change the name of the organization to “Very Important Partners”. The new name and logo were introduced at the organization’s 15th anniversary celebration. In November, 1994, due to an ever increasing number of children being served by Juvenile Court, Rosemary Graff was reassigned as a full-time Juvenile Court Officer.
When Ms. Graff was reassigned, VIP had an uncertain future. While Juvenile Court Services offered an office and telephone, the volunteer board of VIP would be responsible for procuring the funds to continue the program. The board made a commitment to raise the necessary funds and hired a salaried, part-time Director/Volunteer Coordinator. The paid employee reported to the board of directors and was responsible for grant writing, volunteer recruitment and training, and program direction and implementation. There were three individuals employed as the Executive Director over the next six years. Due to the growing needs of the program, in 1998 the board of directors voted to split the director’s duties into two distinct positions, namely an Executive Director and a Volunteer Coordinator. Increased fundraising and grant awards permitted the board decision to be accomplished.
In November 2000, the board of directors voted to change the name of the organization to “Mentor Iowa” to better reflect our mission statement and goals. Mentor Iowa added an honorary board, whose members have lent their prominent names in support of Mentor Iowa’s on-going efforts. In August 2003, Mentor Iowa Executive Director Lois Fingerman retired after six years of service to the program. After an exhaustive search, the Board of Directors hired the current director, Marty Lester.
Mentor Iowa continues to grow and be recognized within the community as a leading mentoring organization for court-involved children in central Iowa. Mentor Iowa continues to see ever-increasing referrals from the Polk County Department of Human Services. Collaborations continue with the Polk County Juvenile Court Services’ Early Services Project (ESP) and Transition Program, Truancy Court and the Youth Justice Initiative (YJI). Mentor Iowa remains committed to helping the “fall through the crack” children in central Iowa.